Deus volt; Deus mittit me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eating the Elephant



You know those times when you're played out, there are tire tracks across your face, and you just can't seem to reach the itch in the middle of your back where the silverware is poking out? Yeah. That time.

It's the middle of the American Ninja finals. You're reaching up to grab the next ring to heave yourself up. It's raining and your energy is flagging. Your muscles are discussing a mutiny. The announcer has given you a vote of no confidence and a dorky nickname. You know if you don't get moving, you'll plunge into the giant vat of ice water and your dreams will be over.

Your kid has just told you he doesn't plan on making any of your dreams for him come true. He's got his own life to live. You have no information he can use and he wants you out of his purple dreadlocked hair. He's taking his stuff and finding an apartment with three of his loser buddies. Oh but you can hold onto the junk he doesn't want right now.

You've just come from a particularly difficult class, the one you're teaching that contains all the delinquents in the school, somehow. The one you have to teach or you don't get to keep your job. You can't do a thing about their insolence, and they know it. They've taken the ship and cast you adrift in the dingy.

Your dog has decided she no longer thinks you're her sun, moon, and stars. She wouldn't come running to you if you tied a steak around your neck and slathered it in gravy. You tried to clip her toenails and she detests you for it. You thought she was the one being on earth who would love you through the Last Big Bang. Sadly, your happy partnership barely made it past the fourth season of Big Bang Theory.

You've auditioned for the most cherry role of your life--the part you've been dying to play since the womb. You, with your spiffy new wardrobe, whitened teeth, pasted on smile, and your stomach in Gordian knots, check the boards after an entire night of hopeful pacing. You are (wait for it. Drum roll...) the understudy's understudy.

I could go on ad infinitum, but you've got ten stories just as discouraging boiling around in your gut at this moment. Everyone does. There are always going to be disappointments and mistakes, foibles and fallacies, misunderstandings and shortfalls. It's life.

How many times do we look at others and only see the part where they hit the finish button to become the fastest, the brightest, the strongest, the most beautiful, the best? Look, there goes Suzie Homemaker with her ten perfect children all lined up in their matching self-sewn outfits to take the widows in their neighborhood loaves of homemade bread and chokecherry jelly? We don't see the long line of failures in their wake.

We don't see that she actually has twelve kids, but one of the boys ran off with a pole dancer and the middle daughter is pregnant with twins with no daddy in sight. We don't see the umpteen previous drafts before Jane Austen got Pride and Prejudice right. We miss the part where Shaq started playing basketball and couldn't hit the hoop to save his life.

So what's the difference between Shaq and Suzie and the rest of us losers (besides the six extra kids I'm not willing to have and a penchant for dribbling)?

Maybe it's vision. And drive. And a will to pay the price with years of hard work and sweat and tears. It's telling yourself, "I'm not that person. I'm more. I'm not going to settle for mediocrity. I'm worth the trouble." It's time to shake off the dust of other people's false impressions. It's time to break the mold, endure gracefully the polishing, and emerge shiny and new-made. It's what we really are.

Yeah. It's that time. Here's a spoon.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

LONGBOURN by the Apron Strings (a review)

I'm always on the hunt for fresh takes on Austen books. I have to say the playing field is about level between decent and pathetic. I've never found an Austen-ic book of her exquisite quality before, though some come close.

Recently I read LONGBOURN by Jo Baker. Because of a few problems, I have filed it in about the middle of the pack.

Pluses:

+This is Pride and Prejudice told from a servant's point of view.
+I enjoy the fresh take on the story. It's like looking at one of Queen Elizabeth's massive court dresses from the inside. Interesting.
+Hearing how the lower half lived and worked made me glad to be a modern woman with real choices. I'm more grateful for modern medicines and creams.
+I enjoyed knowing the otherwise invisible servant's thoughts and dreams and hopes.  I wanted to see things work out well for her. I wanted her to be able to find her love, get married, and have children.
+The book answered the same questions often running through my mind when I thought about Elizabeth's hems dragging 6 inches deep in mud or who would watch the children when the little nieces and nephews came to visit.
+The book was well-written and nicely edited.

Minuses:

--It's a very democratic, modern treatment. Jane didn't really concern herself with the below stairs people at all--nor did many of that time, Dickens excepting. We hear of the rich and the nearly rich. Servants were to be seen and not heard.
--There were several modern topics which took me completely out of the story because they were topics Austen would NEVER have broached (homosexuality, graphic violence, illegitimacy, and sex to name a few). I'm not saying the sex was discussed graphically, but the mention was there, as it was not in Austen.
--There was some bad language.  There is a way to write  without resorting to swearing because Jane herself did it, and I have done it, as have many other authors. It isn't needed. We have extremely well-developed imaginations when it comes to inserting bad language.
--At times I found myself echoing Jemima Rooper in LOST IN AUSTEN when she says, "Jane Austen would have been surprised to know she had written that."
--I felt at the end of the book Jo gave up on the story. She nearly flung Sarah down the road to hunt for James and catapulted them both back, as if the story was now in the point of view of someone else altogether. And she shows up with a baby. Where's the rest of the story, my friend?

I think one reason Austen never wrote about servants is that they are on the bottom of the social pond. There is very little lateral for bobbing around, down on the bottom. The Bennets are closer to the middle. They can marry up. They can make mistakes (such as Lydia's) which sink them to the bottom. It's a much more dynamic story.
Jo tells a story based on someone who really couldn't have married much further up without causing a massive scandal. And there isn't very far Sarah can fall, either.

For me, the language and adult themes really battered the story. I'm sure Ms. Baker could have found a way to introduce interest into her work without them, if her aim had truly been to .

My grade? A solid three out of five bonnets.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Conversations With the Canine

We recently acquired a dog. Which is big, since it was always my children's wildest wish that we would get one. We always used to tease them by getting stuffed animal dogs or the kind you add water to and they grow. The kids were not amused. But we always had The List of reasons why a dog would not come to our house (or pupy as my eldest son once called it).

The List

*We'd have to spend $$$ on food
*If it runs away you have to spend $$$$ getting it back.
*You have to find people to take care of the dog if you go somewhere you can't take them with you.
*They gnaw on everything.
*They poop everywhere.
*They sometimes bite people, who then sue you for all your $$$.
*They get diseases and die, rendering you tragically sad.
*Shots and neutering.
*Puppies if the neutering doesn't work.
*The Cone of Shame if the dog gets his nuts whacked, which the dog then uses to herd humans into doing their bidding.
*Fleas, grooming, tooth brushing, medicine, gas emissions, sharp toenails, and other maintenance.
*Bodily emissions on the carpet, plus gnawing and wear and tear on said carpet.
*Bulky furniture and having to secure the yard.
*Following the dog around with a plastic bag to pick up his steaming pile of dog logs.
*Possible complaints from sleepless neighbors.
*It's HOT here, so a puppy would have to be inside for the summer, tearing around the house like a maniac.
*And the biggest argument of all? They used to have a bunny and because of everybody telling us they'd fed the poor thing, the bunny took a long dirt nap. We were not amused.

So in the past, the list has prevailed past Christmas lists, birthday wishes, and the hopeful housing of strays.

The funny thing was, we adults had both always actually wanted a dog, but the list prevailed for us too.

Enter the heartless abandoner of Dog Murphy. He dumped the dog complete with dog food in the back of the truck. At first the list loudly proclaimed the dog must go. But all of us fell in love with him. He was like a baby--a brilliant, mischievous, silky, sharp-toothed, sweet little baby. One by one the planks of The List were ploughed under by the adorable things he did. Until one day I called the Hubs and said, "I either have to go get the dog some things, or we need to give him away." And the Hubs said the magic words which sealed the animal's fate. "Get the stuff."

So now Dog Murphy is a beloved member of our family. He wasted our carpet for a couple days until we finished training him to ring bells to tell us he has to go out (a fact he exploits constantly--but we can't do anything about it). He barked at the corner of the couch for nearly a week. He cries when I put him to bed, until I sit down and tell him it's time to lie down and go to sleep. And he follows me, touching me on the leg with his wet little nose to tell me he's there. 

He's a brilliant little thing. We've taught him to ring a bell to go out, sit, stay, lie down, and when we shoot him with our finger gun and yell BANG, he flops down and waits for his treat. Yup. Cool little dog.

He recently got bits of him lopped off, which will enable us to make him a permanent Murphy and render him increaseless. Upon emerging from the place of nugget lopping, he gazed up at me blearily and promptly flopped over, completely stoned. It was both hilarious and a little sad to see him staring for fifteen solid minutes at the file cabinet, listing a little to the left. Walking was out of the question for the next little while. I mistakenly thought he'd be easy to keep quietly sedate. Doh. I should have known. At the least provocation he tears around the house like all the Pamplona bulls are after him. One day he's going to knock himself out cold ramming into the couch.

We have conversations all the time, mostly centered around mealtime (ours). They go something like this:
Him: Whatcha doing?
Me: Cooking human food. You seem to be a hungry little dog.

Him: You're quick. You went to college for that knowledge?
Me: Funny. Stop begging. You're perforating my arms.
Him: You know I'm the food taster, right? You need me to make certain everything is safe."
Me: Is that a fact? Well I don't think fudge is good for dogs.
Him: Then what are you eating it for? You should be feeding me at least half of whatever you're eating. Come on. Get it moving. I'm right down here patiently waiting. I won't take no for an answer. Just shoot a little right here into my mouth. I'll bark until you do it. Come on. You know how.
Me: (only not if it's bad for him) Here, little beggar. Knock yourself out.
Him: (grinning) Keep it coming.

I'm sure he laughs all the way to the bone bank. So if it's good for dogs he usually gets a taste or three. I know. I'm much more soft hearted with the dog. He helps me with the dishes far more than any of my kids, and much more willingly.

When we're outside, supposedly finding the exact right spot to defecate in, he's actually looking for his next stick or June bug victim or lizard. June bugs are big, bumbling beetles which allow for hours of hilarious fun. Apparently their wiggling little legs astonish the little guy, so he tosses them up and paws and bites them until they expire or fly away.
Sticks are less likely to fly away, but he does chew them up and leave bits all over, along with swallowing a fair share. I've banned the bringing in of any more sticks because he has plenty of roughage in his diet already. Before, when he brought in a new stick, it went like this:

Him: Doot duh do do. Just luggin' my stick inside. (and he shoots me one of those looks a cockroach gives you right before you stomp him two dimensional--that look that says, "ACK! Where can I hide?")
Me: What's the glance for?
Him: Hey, look over there. It's a bunny!
Me: Nice try, Joker. I see that stick in your mouth.
Him: What, this old thing? It was inside before. It's an old one.
Me: Not true. That one went in the trash. Hand it over.
Him: But it's a stick. For chewing. Like gum. You chew gum.
Me: I don't swallow it. You do. Ergo the painful bathroom visits.
Him: That has nothing to do with this delicious stick. Besides, I don't have hands. I can't hand anything over.
Me: Nice try. Drop it.
Him: Kill joy. I may or may not but absolutely will chew up your shoes. Or something else you love. Just waitin' for the chance. (And he gives me the chin lift you get from New York cabbies when they're checking you out in the mirror.) Then he trots inside, his head bobbing. Now and then there's a pounce involved. Completely adorable.

We wander all over the yard (mainly because we don't want him to get parvo)
in search of that magical spot in which to lay logs. At least that's my aim for him (I of course don't lay logs outside). His aim is to eat grass, sniff the stuff on the mulch pile, examine old log stacks, dig big holes in the yard trying to eat ants, and attack grasshoppers. I've never been so intimately acquainted with the yard before, not even during egg hunts at Easter. I can't wait until we get to explore the neighborhood at a run.


Welp. We're keeping him. He's a gift from God to keep me from going barking mad this summer. He loves without reservation, even though we...uh...had him altered. He loves us even though we have arguments about whose turn it is to pick up his logs or respond to the bell ringing wildly (or in my case his 4 am yipping wake up calls). He loves us despite having to sit there and watch as we consume all our dinner without sharing. Yeah. That's rich. Love without exceptions. 

Welcome home, Little One.

Addendum:
Dog Murphy has a shiny new bone-shaped tag on his new collar, and a hatred of the doggy thumbscrews (better known as nail clippers). He also gets to roam the neighborhood, sniffing other dogs' poo and tripping the runner. Now it's time to teach him to actually come when you call him instead of fixing you with his not-in-your-lifetime stare. And to ride in the car gracefully without having to stand on the driver's lap so he can see out the window.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Trash Man Cometh

I sit here surveying a living room full of my daughters' junk. They've barfed it up out of the bowels of their bedroom like a giant hurling up a rotten cow. It's been a difficult time for me--saying good-bye to a daughter who has already brushed the dirt off her feet on this old, used up homestead.

I feel like she said good-bye to needing a mother a long time ago. I'm merely one of the trash bags in the Mountain 'O Crud. I know it's a fact of life. Kids have to separate from their parents to grow up. But do they have to do it so very thoroughly? And with such finality? Isn't there still room for a mother who has actually lived what they read on google or Pinterest? Will there ever come a time when my nine years of college will qualify me to say anything valid? Will she ever need me again like an old, worn, but still-serviceable softy blanket? What am I, stacked up against all the wisdom of the ages confined in a little electrified silver box?

Because right now I feel like the Trash man cometh. She'll just find someone else more shiny and fashionable and less annoying and embarrassing to replace me with. Oh wait. She already has.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Sent You a Dog

It's  been a crazy, nail-gnawing summer. I've barely had time to sit down and write on my Works In Progress let alone on my blogs. But today seems to be a good time to take stock of the situation.

There have been a few peaks (my son coming home from Russia; getting my medallion with my youngest daughter; seeing my babies and my eldest and her husband; going to the Temple; a family reunion) and several plunges (dealing with someone who reminds me of Godzilla in the way she stomps around crushing people; wedding insanity; and running a funeral). Challenges have included helping several friends work through hills of trash of both the physical kind and mental, as well as dealing with my own detritus mountain.

I wish I could say that I handled each challenge with grace and wit. Nope. I mentally kicked and screamed and threw myself on the floor and then crawled into my mental cave to lick wounds almost every time. I wish I could say I'd evolved into this amazing, brilliant butterfly of a person. But I think I went backwards and became a worm again. I let myself be pushed out of my place; knocked off my perch; rolled out to the trash and left there behind the barrel.

In fact, I felt about two inches high at a time when I should have been deliriously happy. It was supposed to be one of those fabulous mom paydays. Instead, she told me, "Sorry. No paycheck for you. In fact, you're fired. Don't let the door hit you in the rear. Oh, and by the way, you're unimportant and crazy." (Not in so many words, but actions yell.)

What have I learned?
1. Ask for inspiration about these things and then listen to and believe those words.
2. There are things you're reading incorrectly, but mostly not.
3. Trust your intuition.
4. Just let it run off.
5. Breathe.
6. Pick your battles.
7. Contrary to popular belief, you have a place and a value much > zero.
8. I sent you a dog. Now use him for good (not food).
9. Don't lose sight of what's really important while bemoaning the garbage.
10. This too will pass. And someday you'll have regrets.

Okay. Now it's time to go make dinner (not dog).

Saturday, June 27, 2015

AN UNCOMMON BLUE Review

It's been a while. But that's because this has been a crazy summer. I did a friend's wedding, got a new puppy to train, my daughter's getting married next week, my son came home from his two year mission to Russia, we had a family reunion in Utah, and I went through my SUNRISE OVER SCIPIO book and did re-writes in anticipation for its second printing (addressing all the problems critics had with it).

So today, while it's thundering, I'm going to review this book: AN UNCOMMON BLUE by R C Hancock.
I met RC at a book convention this year. We were trying to sell books in the face of heavy hitters like Brandon Mull and Regina Sirois and having a rough time of it. But he bought mine and I bought his and it was all good.
Then later in the year he contacted me about Beta reading his newest offering. So I did it. RC is a fabulous guy. That book was so wonderful that I immediately bumped this book up to almost the top of my mountain of waiting reads.

Boy was I glad I did!

The premise of AN UNCOMMON BLUE is that the people of Telesphore have a fire in their right hand. The color of that fire defines their whole life: their caste, their income, where they'll live, their livelihood and how the people in general will treat them.

Bruno is born a blue--the best color. He should have all the perks society has to offer. But right before he's classified into a livelihood, a random boy runs up and reacts with him, changing his fire, tainting it with green. This automatically ends Bruno's chances at going to medical school, or living with his parents.

Worse than that, there is an altercation and a police officer dies. Now Bruno is on the run and wanted.

I really love it that Bruno does the best he can with what is thrown at him. He's basically a moral, principled person and goes out of his way to protect the downtrodden and misunderstood, even while being bullied and hunted himself.

Bruno is presented with the perfect way to prevail over his 'enemy.' Instead, he makes a string of selfless choices which have unimaginable repercussions.

The book was fast-paced and well written. I was fully invested in Bruno's life, hoping the people he helped would mean good things for him. He made the same mistakes any boy would. He stood by his mistakes with grace and loyalty. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.

And you can't know how easy it would have been to spoil the ending...;o)

Buy AN UNCOMMON BLUE here. And tell RC I sent you...:o)

Write faster, RC.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

CAYMAN SUMMER Review


Here's the last book in the Taken By Storm trilogy by Angela Morrison, CAYMAN SUMMER.

I was avid to dive into this book because at the end of the last book, Leesie literally ends at the bottom of a cliff along with her brother, Phil. Only Leesie doesn't end. She's left with a broken body and an ocean of guilt. She feels God and her family can't help but shun her. Life is ash around her destroyed feet. She abandons her convictions, her school, and her family.

The only island she has is Michael. She clings to him and tries to embrace his kind of life. Only he won't let her. He is now her life raft in more ways than one. He sees that if she abandons everything that once drove him crazy with unfulfilled desire, she won't be the person he fell in love with.

This book is a journey--a search for truth and love and acceptance. Will it be back where they were before? Will it be down to the depths? Or will they both follow their bubbles up towards the light?

I fell in love with Michael even more, because he is wise enough to recognize his pearl-of-great-price and the beliefs that made her precious. I loved that Leesie finds that same pearl in Michael.

You can get CAYMAN SUMMER here. I fully endorse it.

In fact, I give this whole series a huge ten flipper salute.