Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Favorites List

Ending the year by looking back at some favorites from the past twelve months:

Top Books
Plain Truth by Jodi Piccoult
This was my first time reading Piccoult. It won't be my last.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George
I read few books this quickly. I loved it, and it inspired me with writing ideas like nothing else has recently.

Top Movie Experiences
I had very few favorite movies produced this year. (I think Black Knight would be up there, but I can't think of many more. Oh, wait. Mama Mia was fun.)

On the other hand, I had a lot of fun movie experiences, particularly with my kids.

-I introduced them to some of my old favorites: Footloose, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and other "oldies" from when I was young.

-Taking my girls to the theater to see Kung Fu Panda and HSM3, the latter on opening night. I was one popular mommy that day.

Kids' Accomplishments
-D getting onto the school Shakespeare team and taking a trip to Cedar City for the Shakespeare festival.
-S receiving 3 big awards for the N.O.V.A. program, including the overall achievement award, given to only one girl in the entire sixth grade (comprised of several hundred students).
-M going from a girl who likes to dance to a dancer with serious talent.
-A learning to read and ride a bike. Watching her become her own little person.

Personal Achievements
-Drafted and submitted a book that's different from any I've ever done.
-Began drafting another totally different book.
-Co-chaired a writing conference that went off swimmingly.
-Earned more doing freelance and editing work than any other year.

Top Events
-Hands down, the trip hubby and I took to Finland is my biggest and best highlight of the entire year. It'll stay with me forever.

-Second in line is getting my dream office. Yippee!!!

Top New Writing Tool
I have a laptop! With a cool red carrying case! I'll still use my Neo, of course, but holy productivity, Batman! I love my laptop. (Thanks, Honey!)

I'm very grateful for my family (both here and away), for my dear writing friends (who understand me like no one else can . . . and like me anyway) and for the bloggy friends I've met and gotten to know and care for.

I have a feeling that 2009 will only improve on 2008.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Post-Christmas Stress

Because of the way weekends hit, this is the longest Christmas break the kids have ever experienced. They've been around each other all day, every day, for a long time already.

It was fine at first; they even spent hours in the snow making forts and snow houses and came in with rosy cheeks and grins. But now the Christmas cheer is wearing thin. I'm already getting, "I'm bored!" (What, did all your Christmas toys break already? Didn't think so.)

I'm also getting sibling fights that rival the WWF. Today, one child actually drew blood. "Accidentally."

Uh, huh. Sure.

I planned to get a bunch of stuff done during this week, including some housework stuff that's languished for months (my mending "pile" resembles Kilimanjaro, for starters). But I also feel pressure to make sure the kids have fun during their break.

Like how I promised to take them ice skating at some point. If they weren't so set on killing each other, I wouldn't dread that outing. Somehow I'm thinking that putting sharp metal edges on the feet of children already annoyed with one another isn't the wisest thing to do.

Today was a great start to the week: I had yet another appointment regarding my chronic headaches (I swear I live at the dentist's office), did a Costco run (not much food in the house after Christmas and a trip to Grandma's), and I managed to fold laundry, gather dirty clothes, and throw in a load. I don't have all the dirty ones collected yet, because I was too lazy to make the kids unpack properly when we got home yesterday.

I still have a few Christmas decorations up mocking me that I'm trying to ignore. Stupid, I know, because if I were to just put them away I'd be much happier and the place would be less cluttered. But that would make too much sense.

The kitchen looks like a cyclone swept through it. I can't seem to get the kids practicing piano again after a week off. The little one refuses to do her daily chore, although she's been pretending to do it for two hours now (a chore that would take a motivated 6-year-old oh, five minutes). She's gonna be so ticked when I tell her she can't have a friend over this afternoon because she ran out of time to play.

We have another week until school starts again. Heaven help me.

On a happier note, apparently being a Word Nerd is genetic. A few days ago, I overheard the following from my tween:

"Oh, cool, guys. Check it out. I found a typo on Club Penguin!"

My kids might be trying to kill each other, but at least I've passed on something useful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WNW: I'm a Paradox

Last Word Nerd Wednesday, I talked about how English changes, how it's useless to cling too hard to the "real" meaning of words and such that we can't see the natural evolution of the language.

It's an evolution that is happening, regardless of whether someone insists on "may" instead of "can" or cringes when someone says, "it sucks."

That's just the way it is. In that regard, I'm what could be called a descriptivist (someone who describes what's happening in language neutrally, without judgment).

But I'm also known affectionately among friends as the "Grammar Nazi." I wield a sharp red pen when I come across the misuse of lay/lie. My eye twitches at comma splices. So while I'm a descriptivist, I'm also a prescriptivist, meaning that in some areas, I insist that there are rules we should obey.

How can I be both? To explain, I'm going back to a class from my college days, taught by Dr. Oaks, my absolute favorite university teacher, hands down. He's a linguist (shocker, I know).

He talked one day about dialects and how no dialect is inherently superior to any other. That dialects aren't just random ways of talking; they have their own grammar and pronunciation rules, even when the people speaking them aren't aware of those rules.

It's quite wild, actually, to take a Standard English sentence, apply a few specific grammar rules, and end up with a sentence that is Black English Vernacular, or BEV (an actual dialect studied by linguists). We did this, although not in his class.

During his course, I loved going around and hearing the way other people talked. My grandmother-in-law was from the south, and she'd pronounce an [r] after [a] sometimes, as in,

"I need to get the warshing machine fixed."

When I hear things like that, I don't cringe. I think they're delightful differences. They're totally awesome.

Some students challenged Dr. Oaks, saying, "Well, if my dialect isn't inferior than any other, than can I turn in my research papers in my own dialect. You can't mark it down because it doesn't have the 'right' grammar, because there is no such thing."

Dr. Oaks just laughed (when he laughed, his whole body laughed and rumbled, and you couldn't help but laugh along). He shook his head and said, "Nice try."

Then he went on to explain that while it was true that no dialect is inherently superior from a linguistic standpoint, that one is generally selected by the educated population as the standard. That dialect is something educated people are expected to learn and be able to use. By extension, part of our college education was to learn to use the standard dialect and use it well.

In other words, even though Standard English isn't a superior to the "Spanish Fark" or Brooklyn versions of English, we'd better know how to use it, and he'd grade our papers, in part, based on our knowledge and ability to write in Standard English.

He also pointed out that most people aren't linguists (new flash), so people's perceptions about dialects make an impact. If you walk around using certain accents and dialects (or use them in a job interview), you may well be labeled as uneducated or unpolished. That won't help you get the job or be taken seriously.

The reality is, we are judged by how well we can use Standard English.

Even Standard English changes over time, but slower than conversational dialects (which is where "suck" and other words change first). That's where a lot of the debate rages on what's "right."

In some areas here, I'm easy going (like may/can), but on others, I like to hang onto the old versions even though I know full well the language is changing (I don't like "alright," preferring the original "all right." It's a losing battle, and I know it).

But here's the important part: Writers, of all people, need to know how to use the Standard English dialect. It's part of their job. Just like a doctor needs to know anatomy or a mechanic needs to understand how an engine is put together, a writer needs to know Standard English and how it works.

Being sloppy with the language is just lazy and shows a disregard for the profession and the reader on the other end. On the most basic level, a writer's job is to use the language well. Invisibly. If a writer can't do that, the story gets bogged down and can't shine through.

There are times in a novel where the writer can depart from the standard, of course, such as in dialogue and when characters have their own distinct way of speaking.

But here's the catch: to depart from the standard effectively, you need to know the standard in the first place. You can totally tell when a writer doesn't know the rules they're breaking. And when rules are broken well, you can tell that, too.

Readers who know the standard will judge you an incompetent if you flounder with it. Worse, if you don't know the rules (especially ones involving punctuation), you may say things you never intended, because language in print is different than spoken language. In print, you don't have the luxury of things like intonation and body language to make meanings clear. A misplaced comma on the page can add a totally different implication than the one you had in mind.

I'm okay being a descriptive/prescriptive paradox. I don't twitch if, in casual conversation, someone uses "laid" wrong. I don't twitch when I hear "warsh" instead of wash."

(Okay, I'll admit that sometimes I twitch with "fewer" versus "less" and "imply" versus "infer." Those are pet peeves.)

And rest assured, kind readers, I rarely flinch with grammar and punctuation issues on blogs, because in my mind, blogs are in the conversational category. They aren't generally intended to be professional publications.

(So no going all paranoid on me, k? Good. I also reserve the right to have typos on my blog. Glad we're all on the same page there. :D)

I DO twitch when I'm reading a published novel with massive errors (I wonder, does this writer just not care? Where were the editors and proofers?). I twitch when I see a t-shirt from a teaching conference with a typo. Basically, I twitch when people who are supposed to know the standard show their ignorance or laziness.

And yes, I admit that when my kids started picking up constructions like, The carpet needs vacuumed, I put a stop to it and corrected them, fast.

I don't mind hearing dialectal differences in other people (in fact, I find it really fun and love finding out where certain patterns hail from geographically), but I want my kids to have the best shot at success they can, and that includes knowing the standard dialect.

Even if they speak it with a Utah drawl.

I'll be taking a holiday bloggy break now.

Have the merriest of Christmases! See you soon!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pulla? Must Be Christmas!

According to #2, it's not Christmas until she's smelled the pulla. Apparently, the Christmas season officially began in our house today, because we fulfilled our family tradition of making the Finnish sweet bread.

Pulla has always meant Christmas to me. We had it every December when I was a kid. Dad was usually the one who made it, and I have lots of great memories of sitting at the kitchen counter watching and "helping."

I'm no expert, but I do enjoy making pulla, and this year was extra special, because I had fresh cardamom straight from a Helsinki grocery store. This meant that the cardamom was not only mucho cheaper than the stuff in the States (a bottle here can run you around $15), but it has a stronger, better flavor. One whiff had my eyes rolling into the back of head.

Ooooh, yeah.

Lots of versions of the recipe are out there, but here's the one I use. The amount of cardamom listed assumes you have the fresh stuff. When I have to use a U.S. bottle, I double or triple the amount.

1 TB dry yeast
1/2 c warm water
2 c hot milk
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
9+ c white flour

Dissolve yeast in water and let sit for several minutes. Add milk, butter, sugar, salt, cardamom, and eggs. Add 2 to 3 cups of flour and beat until you have a batter. Add 3 more cups of flour. Beat until smooth and glossy. Stir in remaining flour until dough forms a stiff ball.

[At this point you're supposed to let it rest for 15 minutes and then knead until it's smooth and elastic. I let my trusty KitchenAide do the kneading because I'm lazy like that.]

Put in a greased bowl and let rise until double. Cut into pieces to make 3 large braids or several smaller ones. Let the braids rise for another 20-30 minutes. Brush with egg wash. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes (large braids) or 15-20 (small braids) until they are golden brown.

Finns often put lump sugar on top of the egg wash before baking (something else hard to find over here).

Dad generally lets the braids cool and then drizzles a simple powdered sugar glaze over them. Sometimes he adds sliced almonds on top. I do it his way.

The kids love rolling out the dough and making the braids. I let them, because they love it so much. The resulting braids aren't as even as pretty as they could be, but the memories are worth it. We made the smaller braids this year, and the picture above shows a few of them.

One Finnish food I adore but have never tried to make is Karjalan Piirakoita (Karalian Pies). My new year's resolution is to learn to make them. Then my life will be a tad more complete!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Can't Wait!

And I don't even mean for Christmas. (Although I'm plenty excited for that, too.)

You may have heard already (it's been mentioned on lots of blogs the last couple of days), but registration for the 6th Annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference is officially open. The 2009 conference will be April 24 & 25, and like last year, the Whitney Awards Gala will follow.


I've blogged about the conference a few times, like here, here, and here.

And I've had the fortune to be part of the magic every single year. Last time I even co-chaired the entire puppy with Heather Moore. The conference is one of my favorite times of the year. I get to spend time not only learning more about my craft and networking with publishing professionals, but I get to hang out with some of my dearest friends . . . people who get the weirdness that is the writing part of me.

On top of all that, it really is a great conference, and it gets better every year. It also gets bigger, which became a slight problem last year, as Heather and I had to hold a limited budget together and find a bigger venue than some we'd used in the past. We tried to accommodate as many people as we possibly could, but as things were, it was tight, and we had to turn people away.

This year we don't have that problem. There's no cap to registration. (Celebration!) HOWEVER, as always, there is still a limit on the number of agent and editor one-on-one appointments, so if you want to snag one of those, you'd better register soon.

Likewise, there has to be a cap on the ever-popular Boot Camp, because if it gets too big, it's just not all that helpful. For those unfamiliar with the conference, Boot Camp is an optional early-morning, hands-on workshop held before the opening of the regular conference on both days. You get to bring pages from your work in progress, read it at a table of other attendees, and get critiques. Each table is led by a published writer.

Some of the Boot Camp details get tweaked year to year to make it better, and I've been part of Boot Camp every time except last year (Heather and I had enough on our plates, I figured), but I'll be doing it again this year. If you want to be in Boot Camp, again I recommend signing up early. (Trust me; you want to be in it. A lot of attendees say that the experience is the best part of the conference.)

To see the full details and to register, visit the LDStorymakers site here.

I've already registered. It's gonna be awesome!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WNW: Evolving English

This one might get me into a tiny bit of hot water with some people. Be forewarned.

English, like all languages, changes over time. Anyone who's attended a Shakespeare play can attest to that. More recently, a lot of Jane Austen's humor can be lost if you're unfamiliar with some of the words used them. Or, going much further back, good luck understanding The Canterbury Tales if you try reading it in the original Middle English.

Thanks to the printing press, languages tend to change slower than they used to. But they still change, even from one generation to another.

Maybe a year ago, there was some discussion on a list I'm on where some people argued that writers shouldn't use certain words because of what they "really mean."

The irony is that what a word "really" means is extremely subjective and changeable.

When my father was a boy, someone could say, "I feel quite gay today," and no one would bat an eye. I'd wager that most children in today's world would have no idea what that sentence had to do with a few decades ago; it has a totally different meaning now.

Same goes with things like "toilet," which used to mean, essentially, primping. But people wanted to change perception of doing one's business, so they attached a prettier word. Instead of the act taking on a prettier definition, the word "toilet" took on the nastier connotation and a new meaning.

Think of all the other euphemisms we use for that place: rest room (Who are we kidding? No one goes there to rest), bathroom (okay, sometimes it has a bath, but not always, and when you go there, you aren't usually bathing). Water closet? Well, there is water, but that's not really the point. And so on.

Not accepting change is where some old English teachers tend to go crazy. You know the kind of thing I mean: A student asks, "Can I get a drink?" and the teacher replies, "I don't know, can you?" because she expects the student to use may.

Puh-leese. I think that's totally antiquated. Can has taken on the meaning of may and is just as legitimate used that way.

Another one is split infinitives, or saying that "to" and the verb have to stick together and can't be separated by an adverb. But sorry, folks, "to go boldly" sounds intensely lame. It really needs to be "to boldly go."

This is all why I just shake my head at some people who freak out over the use of some words that have totally changed meaning, but they personally cling to the old one. Words like, "suck." (Here comes the hot water.)

I know adults who have no clue about that word's history. But others bring it up and freak out and have to inform others what it "really" means, and then everyone's grossed out.

But it no longer "really" means that.

Let it go. The word has changed meanings.

Another example: back in high school, I learned the history behind "the mother of," and trust me; it's about as nasty as you can get. But the meaning has changed. I had to train myself to stop thinking about the old definition, to not freak out every time I hear someone use it, because they're using it in a different way, with a different meaning than it used to have.

For all intents and purposes, it's now a new phrase altogether.

Think of it this way: if you're a purist and insist that we stick with old meanings, then you shouldn't have a Christmas tree. After all, it's a pagan symbol.

Ridiculous, no? Of course we should have Christmas trees. That symbol has changed meanings now, right? It's a beautiful Christian symbol of everlasting life, a gift we have access to thanks to the birth, Atonement, and resurrection of Christ.

So how can I justify being all Grammar Nazi, flinching at dangling modifiers and lie/lay misuse, and insist at the same time that language is fluid, and rules change?

There's a pretty easy explanation. It goes back to dialects and standard English and a bunch of other things . . . which I'll get into next Word Nerd Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the Bright Side

A head cold

+A sick little girl crying a good chunk of the night

+Almost no sleep

= I'd hoped that today I'd get to sit around in jammies, wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot cocoa as I read a book and blew my nose all day and tried to recuperate.

Alas, it was not to be. Instead I ended up with two doctor appointments, a pharmacy trip, plus a very much needed grocery run. On slick, icy roads. (I like to look at snow, not drive in it.)

But . . . I came home with $185 worth of groceries for $83.11.

So, you know, that felt pretty good.

Now pardon me while I sneeze my head off . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Few Christmas Memories

1) Listening to Dad sing Christmas songs. Sometimes along with his reel-to-reel tapes. Other times just in the house or yard or car. In particular, I remember, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Dad has a great voice (was in a barbershop quarter in college). I was sorely disappointed when I grew up and heard the song elsewhere because almost no one knows the real opening to it.

("I just got back from a long, long trip across the Milky Way . . ." Know it? Bing does, of course.)

2) Making gingerbread houses with Mom. Many a year we did one beautiful one together and displayed it on the dining table for all to see. We weren't supposed to eat the candy and ruin the beauty until after Christmas. What we kids did, then, after the front looked pretty, was plaster the back of the house with tons of random candies and then eat THOSE all December long. It kept us happy, and the front of the house still looked nice!

3) My royal blue toy typewriter that really worked. Awesome gift! I wore the ribbon into the ground. (Shocker, right?) Right up there was the printer toy I got a few years later. I loved making posters and signs.

4) Finnish pulla. To this day, the smell of cardamom is Christmas. I've carried this one on with my kids. We make pulla every year. This time it'll be extra yummy, because I brought home some cardamom from Finland, which is much stronger than the weak stuff you get in U.S. grocery stores. YUM! We're making it this weekend. If I have two brain cells functioning then, I'll take pictures and post the recipe.

5) Christmas tree hunting. I think we went two or three times is all, going with a couple of families in our ward (who were cousins living next door to one another) who owned some land. Great memories of hiking through the mountains, cutting down the tree, and then warming up with hot cocoa and singing goofy songs. (Good times, right, Blondie?)

6) REAL trees. Sometimes even flocked ones. They were always gorgeous. Mom made sure of that: sometimes it was pink and silver on a white flocked tree, other times red and gold or some other theme on a regular green one. One year the tree had a Persian theme. This is why I insisted on real trees when we got married. REAL is Christmas. Fake is NOT.

When Mom and Dad became empty nesters, they bought a fake tree. When hubby and I walked into their house and saw it, I gasped in horror. Hubby laughed and laughed. Mom and Dad had a fake one. I now had no good argument. Today we have a fake tree, and we alternate real/fake every year.

And I have to admit, the fake ones have their perks: No need to water them. You can put them up earlier without worrying about them dying. No falling needles. If you have a bare spot, just bend a branch.

But I still prefer the pine smell of the real thing. A pine-scented candle doesn't quite cut it. This year is a real tree year. Yay!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Book Club Freak

The very first book club I ever attended (aside from the L. M. Montgomery reading/writing club I formed in ninth grade) was part of a BYU married ward.

Here I was, a brand-new wife, an English major, and in a strange new place, looking forward to meeting other women and making friends. I was also looking forward to talking about books.

I knew, of course, that there would be little to no chance of anyone there wanting to analyze anything according to the Rhetorical critical theory or wax eloquent about the Neo-Classical versus Romantic eras. Thank heavens; I wasn't there for a repeat of the English major stuff I was already getting at school.

But we'd talk books, and that would be fun.

The first one we read was an oldie but a goodie: James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl.

It was one I'd read as a kid, of course. (Who hasn't read it when they were young?) But reading the story as an adult was different, and I saw new things in it.

The book club gathered in a small apartment. We cooed at the five-month-old someone brought, made small talk, and then got down to business.

The gal leading the discussion began. "So, I'd like to go around the circle and have everyone tell us their favorite part of the book."

I blinked. Favorite part? That's not really a discussion. But okay, I'll go with it. This could just be a way to break the ice and find stuff to talk about.

But no. Everyone listed a "favorite." Every favorite was so shallow that there was no chance for finding a discussion topic in them. ("I liked the ladybug best." Niiice.)

Not a single answer was interesting, let alone thought-provoking.

When my turn came, I knew I'd sound like a dork, but I went ahead with my answer. I said something like, "I thought it was neat how James changed. At the beginning, he was scared and let everyone else decide things for him. But by the end, he'd really grown up and became the leader of the group."

***crickets chirping***

I looked around at them, waiting for a response, but everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats and avoided my gaze. No one said anything until the hostess went on. "Okay, then . . ." she said, turning to the next person in the circle.

I remember sitting there wondering if I'd accidentally gone all English major on them after all. But no, I hadn't. I didn't mention themes or symbols or deep imagery or any of the dozen critical theories I'd studied. I didn't go off on Milton or Wordsworth or Faulkner (although I've since got off on the latter right here).

Instead, I sat there trying to figure out where I was and why. These women, most of whom were also university students, apparently weren't there to talk books. I think they were there for the chatty female togetherness.

It was either that, or they were dumb as walnuts. The evening was sorely disappointing.

I've since belonged to several book clubs that (fortunately!) haven't resembled that first one in any way. There have been a variety of books, an even bigger variety of opinions, and a lot of discussion (even debate, at times) about the plot, the characters, and how they impacted the readers.

That's what a book club should be. I'd like to think that most book clubs think about things like how a character is different at the end than the beginning. That they wonder why the author made a certain choice over another. Where they find themes that speak to them. Where book club members expresses honest opinions, even if they differ, and all feel welcome doing so.

I never did make any close friends from that group. Such a mystery . . .

My only other negative book club experience was with one I didn't attend. A relative came to me asking for title suggestions for when she would be hosting her own book club.

"Oh, but we don't read anything fluffy like LDS fiction," she warned.

I smiled and just looked at her with my eyebrows raised, waiting for her to backtrack just a tiny bit, maybe say, "Not like your books, of course, but there are some fluffy LDS books out there." Or, "These ladies are really intellectual and want to discuss only really hardcore literary stuff. You understand."

But she didn't say a word. It's as if she'd forgotten that I write LDS fiction. She just waited for me to spit out some literary titles, because of course, I read a lot and probably knew a lot of good books. I gave her a few that would probably work for her group.

I doubt she realizes even to this day that she basically pulled the rug out from under me and demeaned what I do. I remind myself that she's not a reader, that she's not my target audience, and therefore her opinion shouldn't matter to me.

Other comments she's made make it clear that she doesn't get what it takes to write and write well. She's just clueless about the work I've put into it and still put into it. I can't hold ignorance against her, can I?

I also remind myself that the current LDS market isn't what it was even five years ago, and what she's hearing from other people is more about what they think the market is like than what it really is like . . . because most people who can't stand LDS fiction either haven't read any in many years or had the bad luck of picking up one of crappy ones.

The amount of crap and fluff on store shelves goes down every year (but yes, some exists always, just like in the national market). The quality has been going up fast, and I could have given her a list of really great (non-fluffy) LDS novels if she'd been willing to take them.

I've received great reviews and awards. Those opinions should matter to me, right? It's not as if hers should make any difference. But it does. It would be nice if she thought what I did was even a tiny step above fluff.

(I hope I won't regret posting this, but I'm quite sure she has no interest in my blog and will likely never see it.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WNW: Holiday Edition

Today's Word Nerd Wednesday is brief but relevant in the Christmas gifting season, and it revolves around a very simple but often-forgotten rule of punctuation that makes my eye twitch whenever I see it.

Remember this one, for my sake:

Plurals do not take an apostrophe.

You wear shoes, not shoe's.

You have kids, not kid's.

And when you deliver a plate of cookies to the neighbors, the gift tag shouldn't be addressed to the Jensen's.

You are giving the gift to a family comprised of lots of people named Jensen.

That's plural.

USE: Jensens

I invariably see little misplaced apostrophes everywhere on gift tags, Christmas card envelopes, and more. Twitch. Twitch. Twitch.

It's an illness. I know that. Humor me.

But why is the apostrophe wrong?

Here's the deal: An apostrophe before the S makes a word possessive. On gift tags, you're addressing a plural group, not declaring that one of them owns anything.

Worse, if the apostrophe is before the S (as is usual for this kind of mistake), it's singular. It's not even plural for the entire family to own anything.

Apostrophe-s ('s) means that there's just one shoe, one kid, one Jensen.

So these would be correct:

The shoe's lace broke.

The kid's teacher was nice.

I could find a correct sentence for the word, Jensen's, but it would probably sound weird, because you don't usually use a last name in a singular sense unless you're in the army or on a sports team ("Jensen's tackle was awesome"), and I can't think of a single situation where "the" belongs in front of it ("the Jensen's tackle"? Um, no.).

As a special Christmas gift to me, please, please, please, when you address gift tags or Christmas card envelopes this year, restrain your pen. Don't write that little jot of an apostrophe!

Simply address your well wishes to the Jensens, the Mitchells, and the Smiths.

My non-twitching eye will thank you profusely.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

1 Tree, 2 Sick Girls, 3 Winners, 4 Adorable Kidlets

1 Tree
It didn't occur to me to post pictures of our Finnish decorations until commenters mentioned it. So here we are: some close-ups of the straw decorations, including various kinds of stars and snowflakes, pine cones, angels, and even straw garland.

You can see the tree in all its splendor as well as the goats (on the mantel) at the bottom of this post.

I've always been a white light girl myself, but hubby likes multicolored. We tend to trade off from one year to the other to keep us both happy. But this year, I insisted on white. To me, multicolored just wouldn't work with the straw ornaments. Last time we used all white, some of the strands died, so yesterday I went to buy more before we got the tree.

Do you know how stinkin' hard it is to find plain old white lights?!

There were oodles of multicolored ones, but almost the only plain white I could find were icicles. Not what I needed. I ended up buying several boxes of the only other ones there: mini strands with of a paltry 20 lights on each . . . argh! But hey. It worked.

Our tree looks pretty good. At least, it looks good save for the bottom foot or two, which are pretty bare so the cat doesn't destroy my cool ornaments. She's already decided she likes taking flying leaps into the tree and sleeping on one of the boughs.

2 Sick Girls

In the middle of her piano lesson yesterday, #3 came down with a pretty nasty head cold. She was miserable for much of the evening, but with the help of some Advil managed to put a smile on her face enough to go get the tree with the family and take a picture (below). She's staying home from school today.

Then last night I was up for three hours with #4, who woke up in horrible pain with a UTI. She, too, is home from school.

Yeah. I had a ton of things on my to-do list for today. A doctor's visit and lots of cuddling with two little girls is pretty much going to replace most of that. Hope the fam isn't too hung up on having things like clean underwear.

3 Winners

As promised, I'm announcing the Pay It Forward winners today:




Congratulations, ladies! Remember to let me know which book you want and where to send it. And be sure to Pay It Forward on your own blogs.

4 Adorable Kidlets

With the tree up, we (finally!) took a picture to use on our Christmas cards. The kids look so grown up to me, it's sort of freaking me out. I swear, they were just babies. Babies, I tell you!

Note the Scandinavian sweater #2 is wearing . . . I wore that very sweater myself at that age.

The picture uploaded really little even though I picked "large" (no idea why . . . dumb Blogger), but you can sorta see the straw goats on the mantel above my son's head (one big goat, two little ones).

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Book to Add to Your List

I got lucky a few months ago when an e-mail landed in my in-box, asking if I'd be willing to get a free book (Hello?! Do you KNOW who you're talking to?!) and review it here on my blog.

Since it's non-fiction and hence not a contender for a Whitney Award, I can review it. Yippee!

(To explain for readers new to my blog: I'm on the Whitney Awards Committee this year and get to judge two of the categories to decide the finalists, so my opinion of 2008 LDS fiction releases has to stay mum. You'll note on my Good Reads profile that any 2008 releases I've read this year don't have any ratings. That would be why. Nominate your favorite fiction by any LDS writer—that includes national writers as well as those in the LDS market. You have until December 31. Do it at the Whitney site.)

It was with much giddiness that I opened up my copy of the mother in me, a collection of essays, poetry, and photography entirely about motherhood, particularly the early years.

Considering what great book this is, that's a really dry (and lame) description. In short, the book is amazing. And it's not a little pamphlet-length ditty. It's 256 pages of (hardback!) awesomeness.

This is a compilation by the staff at Segullah, which is a literary journal for LDS women, including some names you'll likely recognize (like the famous C Jane). These ladies can write.

They're also all mothers. Every one of them has been in the trenches. Each has a different story to tell.

What I found so wonderful is that every essay and poem has a unique blend of being both unique and universal at the same time. Any woman who's been pregnant, given birth, been up in the wee sma's of the morning with colic, nursed a newborn, wondered if she's really up to this motherhood thing, or been so tired she couldn't see straight, can relate to these women and their experiences.

I've never juggled a stroller in Manhattan. I didn't have problems nursing. I never had a C-section. But the essays by women who did those things and more resonated with me anyway.

I love how not one of the writers whitewashes motherhood as some perfect fantasy life. It's real. You see the love, the patience, and the boundless joy mixed right in with the fatigue, the frustration, and the impatience.

You read of times where a mother is a brain cell away from losing her mind completely . . . and the moments that make every last sleepless night worth it.

In short, the mundane and the divine interlock in a beautiful way.

If you haven't bought your share of books for gifts yet this season, put this one on your list for a mother you know (or put it on your own list for Santa to bring you). Buy it here.

Oh, and a warning: you'll probably cry. More than once. Just know that going in. It's that good.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Feelin' Like Christmas

The Christmas spirit is starting to find its way into my heart . . . finally. I'm having a hard time grasping that the time is here again (where did the year go?!). To make matter worse, I'm nowhere near done with the shopping and all that. (Is it just me, or does having Thanksgiving so close to the end of November totally throw a wrench into things? I lost a week!)

We sat the kids down a few days ago and wrote down every Christmas-y thing we wanted to be sure to do this year. Then we plugged them all into the calendar. We have very few blank days; we'll be busy! I have a feeling we'll have a ball getting them all done.

The first item that made it onto the list is a family tradition inspired by my dad.

I grew up listening to Christmas carols on his old reel-to-reel player: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra. You know, the classic goodies.

Because of those songs, I grew up with a simple belief: Christmas ain't Christmas without Bing.

Hubby discovered this early on in our marriage, so our first Christmas, he bought me a Bing Crosby Christmas CD. It was a day of much rejoicing in the land.

We generally listen to Bing as we decorate the tree, but he makes another annual appearance as well: We always, always watch White Christmas.

I feared for a while that my kids wouldn't enjoy the show. Like most classics, it lacks the action-packed excitement of today's offerings. But somehow they've been bit by the Bing bug. They each have their favorite parts (although one scene that makes everyone's list is the guys' version of "Sisters." Gets me every time.)

Another landmark of the season: We're finally getting our tree tomorrow. We've been putting it off for a very good reason. First off, it's our "real" tree year, and I don't want it dying too soon. (The real vs. fake saga a story in and of itself . . .)

Second, several packages have been making their way from Finland, bearing the one thing I wanted to bring home from our trip but couldn't very well find in September when we visited: traditional Finnish Christmas decorations.

Mom hunted down some of the most beautiful straw ornaments and shipped them over. I can't wait to get them on the tree now! We've even got a wreath, a window hanging, and three traditional Finnish straw goats. All handmade, all gorgeous.

If our tree has those ornaments on it and so looks like many of the trees I had growing up and I have Bing's voice wafting through the house, it'll really feel like Christmas!

Remember to enter the drawing here! I'll pick the winners Tuesday morning.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Paying it Forward: A Giveaway

Those not in the publishing industry may not have heard about the ripples that the economy has made there. In short: it's very, very ugly.

This is an industry unlike any other: it's the only one I'm aware of where stores can order all they want and not pay upfront, then, if the books don't sell as much as they want, they just return them and never have to pay.

Here's what happened this fall: readers stopped buying books because of the economy. So bookstores had tons of extra books they hadn't paid for. They returned those books in droves. The result: Publishers are floundering, because they lost enough money in a month or two (not being paid at all for books, not selling any, and then losing more through returns and shipping) to throw them into the red for the entire year.

In many ways, it's an odd industry, because today's money comes from books acquired months if not years ago. Money from the books they're working on and publishing today won't come in for months or years in the future. In a sense, they have to be fortune tellers, guessing what will be hot in twelve or more months, and then hoping against hope that when a specific book hits shelves, that nothing (like a recession) will cause any problems.

I'm not explaining this very well.

But the point is, readers need to buy books as gifts this Christmas. Books are always a great gift, especially for kids.

Like most people, I adore the library and use it a ton. But the other day, I went to the store and bought a book I'd read from the library that I especially liked. It was my way of supporting both the author and the publisher.

This season, publishers really need the help. They're laying off people left and right in an attempt to tighten purse strings today, even though their money is tied up elsewhere (in past books and future books). But hey, it's the only way they can save money today. Some publishers have even temporarily stopped acquiring new books.

I've done my part: In the last week, I've bought a bunch of books for my kids and myself.

For two reasons, then I'm doing a giveaway:

1) To encourage my readers to GIVE BOOKS this year, even if it means a free one.

2) To pay forward the prize I won through Shelle at Blokthoughts. I won a $10 gift card at It's already spent on a book I've been wanting to get for some time. It arrived yesterday. Can't wait to read it!

Here's how it'll work: THREE commenters will get a copy of one of my books, their choice. I'll pick the names randomly.

The ONE rule: Winners have to be willing to PAY IT FORWARD on their own blogs by giving something away to their readers. If you don't want to do a giveaway, don't leave a comment. (Or say as much IN your comment. That works, too.)

Oh, and make sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner.

Notes about my books:

I can sign them to the winners or to a friend, or family member if you want to give the book as a gift.

My first two, Lost Without You and At the Water's Edge, are out of print. I bought up some of the very last copies around. So if you're interested in one of them, this might be a good place to get one.

Some readers have asked about which of my temples books are what:

  • House on the Hill is about the Logan Temple.
  • At the Journey's End is about St. George. It's also about one character from House on the Hill. You can totally read it as a stand-alone, since it's not a true sequel (more of a spin-off), but if you don't want the end of House on the Hill ruined, don't read At the Journey's End first.
  • Spires of Stone is about the Salt Lake Temple and is a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. Don't let the somber cover fool you; it's my most light-hearted book.
  • If you'd prefer to get a copy of Tower of Strength (my fourth temple book, about Manti), you can defer your prize until March when it comes out, and I'll send you one then.

Go on: Comment to enter and then head to the store to buy some books!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

WNW: A Non-Native English Tongue-Twister

Wow: Word Nerd Wednesday two weeks in a row. It's a record. :P

I mentioned this one before, so I thought I'd elaborate on it (because of course these things fascinate me; I guess that's the point of WNW).

When I lived in Finland for a few years of grade school, the students were already taking foreign language classes. They started in third grade and got to pick either Swedish (the second national language of the country) or English. When they'd reach the equivalent of junior high, they'd pick up the other language.

I was part of the English class, which actually helped me learn Finnish. If you get a quiz where you have to write down "ruoka" in English, you have to know what it means in Finnish first (it means food, in case you were wondering).

My friends often tried out their English on me. When I first arrived in the country, the boys in our class yelled English phrases they'd heard on TV and in movies. I got a lot of "Bond, James Bond!" and "Knight RRRRRider!" (with a long, rolled R) in my face. One boy even tried swearing at me repeatedly, but I just laughed, because he kept telling me to sit. (There is no [sh] sound in Finnish.)

But one of my most distinct memories was about the tongue twister my friend Katja just couldn't wrap her mouth around:

The big, pink pig.

It sounded like, "The big, big, big."

I couldn't figure out why she couldn't say it right. Each word sounded so different to me. Dad (Mr. Linguist) helped explain the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants.

A voiced consonant uses your vocal chords to make the sound.

A voiceless consonant does not.

I'd never noticed that the only difference in how you pronounce [b] and [p] is whether you're using your vocal chords.

Both sounds are bilabial plosives, so you're basically blowing air in a burst and using both lips to do it. But for [b] you also use your vocal chords (it's voiced), while with [p] you're just using air and your lips (so it's voiceless).

The same principle applies to [k] and [g], which are both velar (which describes what area you're using to make the sound—the back of the roof of your mouth), but [k] is voiceless and [g] is voiced.

Katja was voicing all the consonants in, "Big, pink pig," so it came out instead as, "Big, big, big."

"Twinkie," a woman we knew from church, often passed as American because her accent was so good. But she had one big shibboleth: [j] and [ch]. To her they sounded exactly the same.

Juice came out as ch-uice.

If I've explained today's concept well enough, you can probably figure out what her problem was.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Chocolate! And a Cool New Site for Writers

First off, I've discovered an interesting phenomenon. My top three posts (based on hits and comments) have been about the following:

1) Politics
2) Twilight
3) Winning chocolate

Hmm. I should post more often on topics that people feel passionately about!

NOW . . . announcing the winner of the Word Nerd Wednesday contest:

Really truly, I used an online random number generator to pick the winner. I typed in the number of people who left their scores in the comments. The site picked #7. Then I counted down to find the winner.

I swear this isn't a matter of family loyalty, but it's still pretty darn cool that my sister-in-law at Lyon Pride won! (Yay, Tina!)

And for the sake of the sheer creativity of her comment, I'm going to award a second truffle bar to LisAway! (Lisa, e-mail me your address, k? I already have Tina's, so we're good there. :)

Finally, I have to point any aspiring writers to a cool new site where you can get critique feedback from other writers. It's called Review Fuse, and I found out about it through my brother-in-law, who's one of the brains behind the thing. (Check out the about us page. You'll see a Lyon there!)

Here's the idea behind Review Fuse:
You post your work. When you get reviews back, you get to comment on how helpful each one was. You also then review other writers' work and get reviewed on how helpful you've been. The result is that the site learns your skill level and learns to better connect you with people on your level. In addition, you decide whether to keep your work in the public catalog for anyone to view or to keep it private for just your reviewers to look at.

All around, the concept is way cool.

They've recently added the ability to create critique groups, so you and several friends (even ones geographically distant!) can create your own groups and run it on the site, or you can create a group from current site members.

They've even got a blog with advice on writing, where I (and some of my friends) might be guest blogging at some point. Stay tuned.

The site is still in beta. Members are coming on daily, so it's really growing. The best news? It's FREE.

I know there are tons of people out there who love to write but for whatever reason have a hard time finding readers and/or a critique group. This could be your answer. Check it out here.

Final note: During my bloggy break, I kept composing posts in my head as I fell asleep at night. Of course I wouldn't forget what they were about, right? Not after I thought through them so thoroughly. Never.

Yeah. Of course they're all gone now. I have no earthly idea what they were about. But trust me; they were brilliant.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Word Nerd Wednesday: Go for Launch!

Since the Word Nerd poll had an overwhelmingly positive response, I will be doing Word Nerd Wednesdays (although I'm making no promises about them being every week).

I'll be taking a blogcation for the rest of this week to enjoy Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd put up a fun Word Nerd activity until I get back.

How well do you know your homophones?

Take this test to find out.

Here's the deal: I've got a Utah Truffles bar to award!

To enter the drawing, take the quiz at the link above and then post your score in the comments. I won't be picking the highest score or anything like that. It'll be a random drawing from everyone who posts their score.

Being the ultimate word nerd, I feel like I should know it all, so I'm feeling a bit dumb that I didn't get all 43 correct. I missed one. Darn it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

(If you have an idea for a future Word Nerd Wednesday post, let me know!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Kid Is Going to Kill Me

A couple of weeks ago my son had a scary breathing (or, rather, lack thereof) episode at school. Long story short, while his diagnosis isn't clear yet, the doctor gave him orders to exercise to work his lungs.

It's November. It's cold. It's dark. Sure, I'll send my son out in the dark with a parka and make him ride his bike. Not happening.

But we do have a trusty treadmill.

How does one get a 13-year-old to work out on it?

I'm either brilliant or really stupid. I've got some extra baggage I'm trying to drop, so I thought that hey, why I don't the two of us have a little competition?

This is what we're doing: Whoever burns the most calories between now and the end of the year has to treat the other person to a movie of their choice, complete with popcorn and drinks. He's hoping he gets treated to some action/fantasy/boy movie, and he's sure that if I win, I'll make him pay for some girlie flick.

He got so excited about it that he immediately made a chart with dates and columns for counting up our calories and everything and hung it on the wall.

Ever since, he's been exercising his tail off, leaving my calorie numbers in the dust. But if this competition is going to be even remotely motivating for him, it has to be a real competition. If he's thousands of calories ahead of me, he'll stop exercising.

So I find myself huffing and puffing on that stupid treadmill in a vain effort to catch up. Every day I get out of bed with sore muscles in places where I forgot I had muscles. I've gotten lots of blisters. Sometimes after exercising, I hobble around the house for two hours, or I cough and hack because my lungs aren't used to the exertion. Oh, and housework has sort of fallen to the wayside.

But no matter how hard I exercise, the kid manages to outdo me. Which means I have to keep working to keep him motivated. I'm dying here.

I got a slight reprieve over the weekend when he (unfortunately) came down with a pretty bad 48-hour head cold.

He's better now, so we're both back on the treadmill. As of right this second, I'm up by about 175 calories (after busting it out for an hour this morning). But he's not home from school yet. He'll take one look at the chart, hop on the treadmill, and leave me in the dust again.

It's good for him, but dang, I'm getting too old for this . . .

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You Want to Read This One--Oh, Yes, You Do!

I have 3 fun things to announce today:

1) The Her Good Name contest is now closed. The winner of a free, autographed copy of this awesome Josi. S. Kilpack novel is Cathy J!

(I'll be sending a notice out to my newsletter subscribers soon in case she doesn't see her name here.)

Which leads me to:

2) A NEW contest is now up on my site. This time the winner will get the complete, unabridged audio book (on CD) of J. Scott Savage's new hit fantasy, Farworld.

(You know you want it! It's a great book!)

How to enter:

Go to the contest page on my website and read the instructions there. You'll need to find the answer to a trivia question on the Farworld website (you'll find a link to it from my contest page).

When you find the answer, type it into the contest form, click "submit," and you're entered!

One entry per person, and no one in far-off countries, please. My postage budget can't take it. :)

"Far-off" is defined as in another continent. Canada isn't "far-off" in my book, in case you're wondering.

Good luck!

3) Finally, THIS weekend, (Friday and Saturday, November 21-22) is the 5th Annual Utah Chocolate Show at the South Towne Expo Center. It's run by my older sister Mel, and in the first years of the show, I was her assistant director (until stuff like life as a writer got in the way).

The show is loads of fun for any chocolate lover. You want to go. Trust me on this one.

Find out more at the Utah Chocolate Show website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dissing Dora

Thanks to a tip from a friend, I found out that today author Lynne Truss is speaking at the BYU Devotional.

Woo! Yes! Snoopy happy dance! News like that is akin to Word Nerd Crack.

Alas . . . I can't make it. (I know. That fact is about killing me.)

No worries: I've already set my TiVo to record the devotional. The one they broadcast on KBYU had better be the live one. (If not, I'll still dig around and find the video to watch. I just GOTTA. It's Lynne Truss, people!)

Last night when I set the TiVo up to record, I got the warning that Dora the Explorer and The Wonder Pets! overlap with the devotional and wouldn't be recorded if I proceeded.

I had to choose: A speech by a writer I think is hilarious and witty on one hand, and my sweet little kindergartner who loves Dora and Tuck and all the little Wonder Pets on the other.

Simple answer, really. I'm hoping to keep #4 distracted from the TV today. She'll forgive me, right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving with the Apes

Since hubby's family generally went up to Idaho to visit both sets of grandparents for Thanksgiving, and since Christmas tended to be a bigger deal for my family, that that's how we split up the two holidays the year we got married.

November, 1994: The day before Thanksgiving, we leave our little apartment (complete with puke green appliances, aqua sculpted carpet in the living room and rust-orange shag in the bedroom) and headed for Shelley, Idaho.

We spend the night at Grandma Lyon's house with the rest of my hubby's family. I wake up bright and early Thursday morning, determined to have a good Thanksgiving with my new in-laws and to not miss my own family too much.

Grandma has cable. In our little apartment back in Provo, we have rabbit ears letting us view a total of one channel (we watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation that year), and the rest of the family is pretty stoked about the cable too, so the TV is on a lot.

We end up watching Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall in Planet of the Apes. Odd show, but I'm always up for a classic, so I hunker down to watch.

When the movie ends, the next one in the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, comes on. Turns out the station is running an Apes movie marathon. (There are something like NINE of them . . . bet you didn't know that.)

Everyone's in the front room watching the movies. And I'm wondering, At what point will someone start with the Thanksgiving feast? I wait for a cue, like my mother-in-law going into the kitchen, whereon I'd follow and help her with the meal. But no one's been in the kitchen since breakfast. And I'm not smelling a turkey.

Hmm, I think. Maybe they eat the feast later in day than I'm used to?

The third (or maybe the fourth) movie comes on. I imagine my family eating their Thanksgiving meal several hours to the south of me. Still no turkey in the oven, no potatoes getting peeled. No stuffing or gravy or anything like that. Nothing.

Confused, I finally lean in to my new husband and ask the burning question. "Shouldn't we be getting the Thanksgiving meal ready? It's getting kinda late."

"Oh, no. Not today," he says, as if it's the most natural thing in the world. He returns to the movie. My mind is racing. Are my days off? Is it not Thursday? I determine that no, it is Thursday.

I lean back in. "But it's Thanksgiving."

"The Lyon Thanksgiving is on Friday," he says then returns to Roddy in his ape costume as if he'd just said something totally normal, while my brain was swirling. Um . . . what?

I probe further to get a full explanation.

Turns out that since both sets of grandparents lived on opposite sides of Shelley, my in-laws split up the Thanksgiving holiday. The Jensen meal was always on Thanksgiving Day, while the Lyon meal was always the day after.

That year the Jensens were spending the holiday in Boise with one of their other daughters. But since the Lyon meal is always on Friday, they kept it there. That way all the other Lyon cousins wouldn't have to be told to come earlier. It was just easier to keep up the tradition of holding Thanksgiving . . . not on Thanksgiving.

Everyone saw this as normal. No one saw any reason to explain this to the new daughter-in-law.

At the time, I sat there thinking, "Wait. You mean I could have been with my family today and come up here for your family's meal tomorrow too?!"

I felt like the only ape in the room, the one person not getting that it didn't matter when you ate the pumpkin pie as long as you ate it. To me, it did matter. It was either Thanksgiving or it wasn't. Celebrating on a different day would be like ringing in the New Year on January second. It didn't really count.

Years later, I get it: the point isn't so much the meal or the day as much as it is gathering as a family, feeling thanks, and all that comes with it.

So it's all rather funny to me now to remember how I sat there staring at hairy apes talking to one another, confused for hours on end and trying to figure out why there was no turkey in the oven.

To this day, no one in the Lyon family understands why I thought this was even little bit odd.

And to this day, I can't see or hear anything about Planet of the Apes without a chuckle.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Konnie's Secret

My first big memory of Konnie was becoming her roomie at drill camp the summer before my sophomore year. I recognized her from school, but had never talked to her.

In all honesty, she sort of scared me. She had a total of eleven piercings between her two ears, was a transfer student (rumors were rampant as to why), a foster child (ditto), and it seemed a foregone fact to everyone that she'd been involved with drugs.

I have no idea if the drugs part was true, but as the months went on and we became friends, I was never aware of her doing anything shady like that, although it wouldn't surprise me to find out it was true. We'd been in P.E. together our freshman year. She'd looked rather Goth back then and hung out with friends who were less than savory (the type that hung out at "Stoner Wall" and were very open about their drug use). Not that any of those things are guarantees, but it's a good possibility.

That first day as roomies when we changed clothes, I noticed a little sticker on her upper arm. "What's that for?" I asked. She shrugged, avoided the question, and finally mumbled something about liking stickers. Odd, I thought.

For the next three years, Konnie and I gradually became good friends. We ended up being a major part of the drill team leadership, so we choreographed routines, ran practices, and of course spent hours and hours together in the bus, at competitions, at games, and so on.

Because of the sticker incident, I kept an eye out and noticed that she always, always had her left arm covered. In the locker room, she kept her t-shirt draped over it as she got dressed until something else covered it. She never wore just a leotard on top for practices. She always wore a shirt, too.

Most of our costumes had sleeves. One didn't, but we did have a band worn on one arm, and our director insisted that we wear it on the left: the same arm Konnie always covered. While the rest of us used one another to help tie on the bands, our director was always the one who tied on Konnie's, as if there were some secret only the two of them shared.

No one else seemed aware of it, but by the time our senior year rolled around, I was desperate to know her secret. Did Konnie have some funky birth mark she was ashamed of? A scar? Maybe she came from an abusive family, and it was a cigarette burn.

I did my best to sneak a peek in the locker room and elsewhere, but man, she was good at hiding that thing. If I tried to ask about it, she'd change the subject. It took months and months of diligence on my part, but I finally caught a glimpse of her secret: a little green shield tattoo about the size of a dime.

That's it? A tiny little tattoo?

I couldn't figure out what the big deal was. At least, I couldn't until I sat back and thought through what I knew about Konnie. She'd let all but two or three of her ear piercings grow back in. She attended seminary. She stopped wearing freaky black makeup and immodest clothes. She no longer hung around the Stoner Wall kids. She went to church. She studied and did homework and didn't skip classes anymore.

In short, she was turning her life around and trying really hard to fit into a mold she hadn't ever put herself in before.

I think she was terrified that if the friends in her new world knew about the tattoo, that they'd judge her and turn away.

That made me sad. It also made me wonder if she was right. And that made me sad.

I don't think I ever told Konnie that I knew about her tattoo, and I kept her secret from the rest of the team. The tattoo didn't make a snit of difference in how I felt about her. While watching her cover it up make me sad, it also made me respect her. That act was a symbol of where she'd been and where she hoped to go.

Post Script:
The last time I saw Konnie was at my bridal shower. She was a new mom of a darling little tow-headed girl. I've tried looking her up since but without luck. I hope she's doing well.

Post-Post Script:
Josi's post here reminded me of Konnie's secret and made me want to write about her. Thanks, Josi.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yes, It's Brown. No, I Didn't Mean To.

It was an accident, and as soon as I can be sure that I won't fry my hair off, I'll be fixing it. (How is still somewhat up in the air . . .)

Until a couple of years ago, I'd never, ever colored my hair. Then I finally decided to join the rest of the adult female world and try to lighten up my darkening, used-to-be-blonde hair. I liked it, but I couldn't afford to keep it up at the salon, even at Fantastic Sam's prices.

Over the last while, I've been using a bottle at home. My first attempt went fine for the most part, but the color turned out slightly too reddish and light for my taste. I have nothing against natural red hair (I gave birth to three of the most adorable red heads EVER!), but dyed red hair doesn't usually look natural. And it didn't look that good; it looked kinda brassy on top of being too light.

Not wanting to risk a total disaster, I stuck with the color for awhile, but eventually tried another one. I went with a "neutral" version of the same color, having learned that on my hair, "warmer" translates to "brassy," "too light," and "funky reddish."

It still turned out too red/brassy and too blonde. (Neutral? Riiiiiiight . . .)

At this point, I was seriously annoyed, because the model's hair color on the front of the boxes and the sample colors on the back were always, always, way darker than my hair ever turned out.

Fine, I figured. I'll go "cooler" and a single shade darker than before. That should get rid of the red, brassy look, and get me a little less hyper blonde.

For once, the box told the truth, and my hair is now the exact brown on the box.

Crap and oops. People, ONE shade darker doesn't equal ten shades. Right? One would think.

#3 has been rubbing it in. "It's brown! It's brown! It's brown!" she cries. I've had neighbors give me funny looks, tilt their heads, and go, "I thought it was the light, but . . ."

Yes, I know I look weird. I know it's brown. Enough of the commentary. Please?

(No, I won't be posting a picture, in case you were wondering. I'm not that masochistic.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Heart Heat

Very early Sunday morning (or, rather, really late Saturday night), we woke up to the delightful smell of burning plastic wafting through the heat vents. As an added bonus, the house was freezing.

Yep. Our furnace is on the fritz.

I'm trying to put a good spin on the situation:
  • It's November, not January.
  • Getting it fixed might not cost an arm and a leg. It'll still probably cost a few toes or fingers, and that stinks, since the furnace is all of 4 1/2 years old, but hey, I'm all for paying less. Even if I'm getting used to paying for broken stuff (like our transmission that died in August. That was fun.)
  • Our gas fireplace pumps out heat pretty well.
  • Baking rolls when your furnace is out helps heat up the kitchen.
  • I have that nifty mini fireplace for my office that I'm blaring all day long.
  • Recently, hubby got a space heater for the master bedroom (which is always the coldest place in the house even when the furnace is functioning). It, too, runs all the time now.

I never thought I'd be so grateful for three little heater thingys.

But they aren't quite enough. The basement feels remarkably like the arctic tundra right now. You walk down the stairs, and the change in temperature hits you like a wall.

Problem: That's where all the kids sleep.

So last night we threw an impromptu slumber party for them in the great room by the fireplace. With the noise and necessary light on for the girls, my son couldn't sleep and headed to his frigid cave of a room anyway. Somehow he survived the night without frostbite.

It was lovely, truly, when he had to get up to practice piano extra early because he has his lesson on Monday mornings. Yeah. The girls loved waking up to that.

In other news, I'm toying with the idea of doing a word nerd-type post on some semi-regular basis, something along the lines of the whole luff-tenant thing I went over recently. I've even thought of calling it, "Word Nerd Wednesday" or something like that.

I've gotten other questions here and there (like, "Why is Dick a nickname for Richard?") that would make for some interesting (to me, anyway) posts. But I won't inflict them on my readers if those posts would bore the rest of blogdom to tears. Vote in the poll at the right! (Be honest.)

Also, don't forget to visit (and bid at!) the Whitney Auction. New items are up all the time. Click on the Whitney Auction button at the top of this page and you'll go to the store front (where you can put some items into your cart and just buy them) or use the handy-dandy link below that to view all of the auction items at eBay at the same time.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Boring Skin Pallettes

A good friend of mine served her LDS mission in Georgia, and when she came back to Utah (where she'd grown up), she complained that holy cow, the people here are so boring to look at. They all look the same!

Yep. I live in a very single-hued part of the world. Most people around here are of European descent (including yours truly), so you walk around seeing lots and lots of pasty white faces. Not much variation.

However, I never thought much about it until I became a mom. Sure, there was that one black kid in my class at high school. He stood out, but everyone adored him because he was a football star.

The first time the whiteness of our area became a concern for me was after the birth of my second child. (A lot of things suddenly become a concern when you're a parent, don't they?)

She had a bright shock of red hair. From the moment she was born, anywhere we went, people stopped to notice her and her adorable red hair. She was used to this. The first thing she learned in life was that she had pretty hair.

I was pushing her in a stroller one day when she was four or five months old. A woman who stopped us on the sidewalk, and bent down to coo at her, looked different. The woman was absolutely beautiful . . . and very black. Dark, dark black.

My daughter's eyes popped open, her mouth shuddered, and she burst into a wail. She'd never seen anyone like that before, and it scared her. I was a bit embarrassed, but I doubt the woman had any idea that this wasn't a regular case of stranger fear. I knew, because, as I said, my daughter was constantly approached and fawned over by perfect strangers, and she loved it.

It was a relief, then, when my daughter was about two and a half and saw a black woman on television and gasped, "Oh, Mommy! Isn't she beautiful?!"

A couple of months later, for her third birthday, she asked for a black Barbie. (Not in so many words, but she pointed out which one she wanted and made it quite clear that she would have nothing to do with the white, blond one.)

I was happy to oblige; having her play with a black doll was about as far as I could take race relations in our area, since, as far as I knew, she'd still never seen more than a handful of black people in her three years.

When my next daughter was about the same age, I took her to the grocery store. At the check-out line, she sat in the in cart and caught sight of a sophisticated black man in line ahead of us. He wore a suit and looked for all the world like Bryant Gumble's little brother.

My little girl stared. She pointed. "Mom! Look at that man!"

I knew exactly what she meant, but I wasn't about to go into a discussion about race right then and there. So I just said, "Isn't he nice? Can you wave at the nice man and say hi?"

"But his skin, Mom! Look!"

"Yes, I know," I said, face going red. "He's a nice man, isn't he?"

"But Mom!"

"I know. Wave at the nice man."

He waved at my daughter and smiled at me knowingly. I was glad he understood, but I still felt a bit silly.

My oldest child never paid that much attention to these things as a toddler, being too caught up in his own imagination at that age to give the rest of the world much thought. But he did have a sweet black boy in his first grade class, and I loved finding out how my son defended him (apparently he had a learning disability) and felt bad when some kids didn't play with him.

As for my youngest, I haven't had any experiences like this with her . . . yet. She seems to be more aware of differences and takes them in stride. Maybe I'm finally learning a thing or two about this parenting thing.

This is a long way of saying that regardless of your political leanings, I think it'll be a good thing for children who don't see a lot of racial diversity to see a black man leading the United States. There are some things that, as a parent, you can't really teach without help, and this is one of them.

In other news, my dear husband (and techno-genius) heard my complaints about my stupid e-mail issues as soon as he walked in the door last night. After a brief dinner, I ran out to my critique group. He, meanwhile, spent two hours on the phone and on e-mail trying to sort out the problem with our server. By the time I came home, it was fixed! I could sing! He pretty much rocks.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Housekeeping Notice

Looks like one of my e-mail addresses is having a blip, so I can send from it but not receive messages at it.

I'm a compulsive e-mail checker, so if you've e-mailed me recently and I haven't responded, that's why: I haven't gotten your message.

(In case you're wondering.)

I have no idea where the gremlin is or what is causing the problem, but I hope it'll be fixed soon. If you need to reach me in the meantime, leave a comment or try annette at lyfe dot com

Carry on!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

ABBA. Not the Election

Thought I'd say that upfront. Yes, go vote. Yes, I already did. (I got to last week in early voting. Duty done.)

With that out of the way, I thought I'd post something a bit more fun.

Shortly after high school graduation, I was invited to what was called a "Better Sounds" party. I had a very . . . interesting . . . group of friends at the time.

The focus of this particular party was the Mamas and the Papas . . . and ABBA. (Light bulbs going off in anyone's heads about now?)

We were encouraged to show up in 60s clothing. At the risk of Sam killing me, I'll post this:

Weren't we adorable? I'm wearing clothes Mom actually wore in the 60s. She even gave me the beehive. Scary glasses, no? (I just did the math on how many years it's been since that picture was taken. Holy freak, it was almost half my life ago. I'm not old . . . I'm not old . . .)

Will, our host, gave us an education on both musical groups, and then we listened to their music while having food and fun and I don't remember what else.

And thus began my love of ABBA. From that point on, whenever we cruised around at night in Sam's white convertible Mustang (oh, the stories I could tell about that!), nine times out of ten ABBA Gold was playing, and we girls belted out the tunes right along with them.

A few years after we got married, my husband and I were wandering through a music store and came across a book of piano music for ABBA Gold. Even though I hadn't touched a piano in years and couldn't play all that well, we bought it anyway. It would be fun to have around.

That piano book gathered dust until this past June, when my son's piano teacher asked for me to send some "fun" music for him to play over the summer. Because 1) he's getting darn good on the piano and 2) I sort of forgot to go to the music store before his next lesson hit, I sent along the ABBA Gold book.

Ever since, he's been working his way through and loves it. He's almost done with it now. He practices before school, and it's been a ball to have "Waterloo," "Gimme" and all the other greats reverberating through the house in the early morning. (Right now it's "Does Your Mother Know.")

He insists I keep my ABBA Gold CD in the car so he can listen to whatever song he's working on as I drive him to school each morning. And as he listens, he air plays on his lap, head bobbing to the rhythm.

I've carried the ABBA legacy on to the next generation. Will would be so proud.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Three Items of Importance

First, I'm not a huge Halloweener, but here's my effort at being festive for you:

This is the costume my youngest wore a couple of years ago and the one I'm most proud of making (even counting the elaborate lion I slaved over and spent way too much on when #1 was two).

That year, her brother was Obi Wan and one of her older sisters was Princess Lea. So Hubby thought it'd be awesome to carry on the Star Wars theme and make her Yoda. She was too young to have much say in the matter, so we went ahead with it, and she was the neighborhood hit.

(Props to #3, who refused to be a Star Wars lemming and insisted instead on being Cinderella.)

Second, Notice the link at the top right? It'll soon be replaced with a fancy schmancy button, which will be up for the entire month of November.

Starting tomorrow, November 1, go there often to bid on some rockin' awesome items, from jewelry to chocolate to Twilight shirts to autographed books to professional edits (including one by yours truly) to a massage.

(Wait. Forget I said that one. I want to bid on the massage.)

New items will be posted every week, and some of the coolest ones will be later in the month, so be sure to drop by often to get some of your Christmas shopping done early. All proceeds go to straight to the Whitney Awards to help fund the 2008 program.

And while we're talking Whitneys, be sure to visit the Whitney Awards site to nominate your favorite LDS-writers' books published in 2008. We need readers to tell us their favorites! Nominations will be taken through December 31, but don't put it off. Don't assume that your favorite 2008 release has already gotten enough nominations to be considered (each book needs five readers to nominate it).

Scroll down on LDS Publisher's sidebar to find an updated list of eligible books.

Third, a glorious moment of celebration: I turned in my manuscript today! And it wasn't even at midnight. (It happened on a national day of candy and chocolate . . . quite appropriate.)

This is the first contemporary book I've written in many years. It's quite a departure for me, but it's been a blast, and I loved writing it.

The characters are so real to me that yesterday as I was finalizing some research questions, I came this close to saying aloud, "Yeah, so when that happened to Marianne . . ."

I bit my tongue pretty quickly, but Blondie might have noticed my slip-up anyway. She's known me for nearly three decades, so even if she noticed, she probably wrote it off as another of my (many, many) quirks.

I'll keep you updated on the status of the book (if it gets officially accepted, release dates, yada yada).

In summary:
1) Yay Yoda! (Happy Halloween!)
2) Whitney Auction! Go, go, go! (Bid, bid, bid!)
3) Book turned in. (Time to celebrate!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Your Wish . . . Sort of

A couple of people asked for a picture of The Purple Tent. I seriously don't remember ever seeing a picture taken from that Halloween. I wonder if I screamed and ran from the camera or something.

But here's one from the previous year (or the one before that . . . I'm not sure I'm remembering the dates), when all three of us sisters were gypsies:

I'm in the middle with the red head scarf.

Dontcha LOVE the 70s era curtains behind us, out-done only by the shag carpet?

Aw . . . look at my cute baby-fat cheeks. Wait. I STILL have the same cheeks. Baby fat isn't so cute when you're entering your mid-thirties, darn it.

Hope my sisters don't mind me posting that. Freaky thing is that they almost look like themselves still, especially Mel (left).

Of all my siblings (there's one more; my big brother isn't pictured. I think this was his year as a blue Incredible Hulk), I'm the one who's changed the most since childhood, to the point that my husband can't see me in my childhood pictures and people usually think my kids take after only their dad, not realizing that the kidlets actually look JUST like I did when I was two or four or six.

(Yo, reader friends out there who know my kids, don't I look JUST like my kindergartner in this picture?! I do, don't I! Totally!) Perhaps I'll blog more on that later.

To throw additional randomness in to this post, a word of advice: be careful what you blog about. As I mentioned, I've never had a problem with laundry, so I blogged about my nifty laundry system.

Bad Karma. Can you GUESS what the last two weeks have been like? Go on. Guess. Laundry CHAOS. (I almost used another word that sounds like the capital of Montana [HEL-ena], but this is a family-rated blog, so I just thought it.)

Serves me right. I get it now, people. I totally do. I'm majorly empathizing as I attempt to dig myself out from under it all and the kids keep coming to me asking if there are any clean jeans or underwear or shirts and I point them to the mounds and mounds of clean but unsorted clothes . . .

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween as a Purple Tent

Somewhere around third grade, I had dreams of the perfect Halloween costume. I wanted to be a magical fairy princess, you know, the kind that flits around like a glowing orb on her gauzy wings and bestows wishes?

Something elegant, mystical, and beautiful. Something like this:

When explaining what I wanted, I made the mistake of telling my mother, seamstress extraordinaire, that I wanted to be a fairy godmother.

My bad. My really, really bad.

Mom took me at my word. She sewed up a costume that looked remarkably like this:

Yep. That year I wore a giant purple tent with a hood. I don't recall having a maroon bow or two colors of purple, though. Just the lavender tent.

It was totally my fault, because I didn't explain it well enough, and all Mom had to go by was the only fairy godmother she'd ever seen. And by golly, I did look like Disney's overweight matron. All I needed to round out the image was an extra fifty pounds, white hair, and dentures.

Mom was thrilled with my choice, because the costume was giant enough that I could wear my winter coat under it and thus keep warm while trick-or-treating.

From my perspective, with the coat I looked like Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after she turns into a blueberry. Awesome!

I had a wand of some kind, but no one noticed it. At every door, I was asked what I was supposed to be.

No one asked Sheryl, who I went door to door with that year. She had a perfect Little Bo Peep outfit, complete with pantaloons and a shepherd's crook.

After all the work she put into it, I never had the heart to tell Mom that I hated that costume. Nay, I loathed it. (But she reads this blog sometimes. Hi, Mom! Sorry!) And to be fair, I had awesome costumes other years, like Winnie the Pooh in second grade (which Mom also made—she worked her fingers to the bone on that sewing machine regularly for us kids), and I was an awesome gypsy the year before that.

But the fact remains that on that Halloween, I learned a valuable life lesson:

If your request isn't specific enough, you can't complain when someone does exactly what you asked them to!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Answer: Word Nerd Rears Her Head

It's been weeks since MelanieJ asked a linguistic question involving the letter Q. In typical word nerd fashion, I dug around and answered it. Because I have a compulsion like that.

In the comments, I volunteered to explain why Brits insist on pronouncing "lieutenant" as if there's an "f" in the middle ("luff-tenant"). A couple of commenters expressed interest. Whether they were just being nice, I'll never know.

But for all three people out there who enjoy these things, here we go. Keep in mind that I'm not a linguist or an expert on these things. This is just what I've pieced together from my time in college and doing minor research on my own. So take it for what it's worth:

Many, many years ago (in the ages of Old and/or Middle English), the letters F and V were pretty much interchangeable and pronounced the same.

So fox could be (and often was) spelled vox.

Remember, this is before the printing press, public education, and other things cemented spelling rules and made the language change at a slower rate. Multiple spellings of the same word were common.

To complicate matters further, V and U were also interchangeable.

This is why you can find engravings atop public libraries where it's written out as:


with a V instead of a U. Ever seen that and wondered why? Yeah.

I don't have proof, but I think people most likely got lazy with the V and made it round at the bottom instead of pointy, and that's how U became interchangeable with V.

In many respects, then, the letters F, V, and U could all be used for each other. And they were. Sometimes they meant different sounds (sometimes a U/V meant a vowel and at others, U/V/F indicated a consonant).

Now if you check out the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary, my favorite toy and the best dictionary in English), it has an entry for FOXES from the year 1225.

It's spelled: UOXES.

Putting it all together:

The word lieutenant was probably spelled with an interchangeable U/V in the middle:


Since V and F were also interchangeable, the word could be pronounced with an F sound where the V was: LieF-tenant (LUFF-tenant).

Somehow pronouncing it with the V/F sound (as far as I can tell, no one agrees as to WHY) stuck in the UK but didn't in the US.

Instead, Americans kept the U sound: LIEU-tenant instead of V-inspired LUFF-tenant.

Tada! (Did that make sense to anyone else?)

I know. I'm a nerd. And proud of it. This stuff is fascinating to me.

(Did you know there's linguistic rule called Grimm's Law named after Jacob Grimm of the BROTHERS GRIMM?! Way cool! Even better, the law is all about voiced and voiceless stops and fricatives and a bunch of wicked awesome linguistic terms like that. Fascinating, right? RIGHT?!)

There's a reason I'd love to study linguistics if I ever returned to school for a master's degree. (Total nerd. Yep.)

(Hey, Dad, thanks for making me one!)

If you beg and plead, maybe sometime I'll explain how voiced and voiceless stops are connected to the following phrase, and why they made it a tongue-twister for my Finnish classmates learning English:

The big, pink pig


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