Wednesday
Apr252007

A Sense of Wonder

This morning I gave a 45-minute presentation on speculative fiction to 65 second-graders. I was quite nervous about the whole thing. When I began, I told the kids that I would rather talk to 650 adults than 65 eight-year-olds; I couldn't imagine a tougher room as I prepared my remarks.

But these kids were amazing. They stayed focused as we discussed the difference between science fiction and fantasy; they enjoyed making up their own "What if...?" scenarios. They asked me a lot of questions about what I write, and how, and why. They asked whether any of my books have been made into movies yet; I replied that this had not yet occurred, but that I was hopeful that it might happen someday.

I read them a bit of Jill Paton Walsh's excellent The Green Book. We mused about what it would be like to leave the earth behind forever, and what one book each would take with him or her in the spaceship if forced to choose.

We talked about the very recent discovery of a possibly habitable planet in the solar system of Gliese 581. One boy volunteered that it could be our back-up plan when our own sun turns into a red giant and then goes supernova. We remembered together that this eventuality is many billions of years in our future and felt some relief.

I told them that Albert Einstein, when asked how to develop intelligence in young people, replied, "Have them read folk tales. Then more folk tales. Then even more." We talked about how reading speculative fiction stretches the imagination, and that limber imaginations are what make great discoveries possible.

I gave them a little information about George Orwell and how his book Nineteen Eighty-Four changed the world. They had trouble believing that governments would actually ban books; they also had a hard time imagining the world before Harry Potter. "Writers are powerful," I reminded them, "They can change the world and the way we think."

I asked them what they thought is wrong with our world; they worry more than perhaps we would like eight-year-olds to worry about wars and pollution and global warming. I then asked them what is right with the world, and their enthusiastic answers--everything from "Trees" to "Music" to "Being kind"--were heartening.

I told them a secret: many people, as they age, let their minds close and harden, making new thoughts difficult for them to think when they grow up. I told them that they are the leaders of tomorrow, and that if they will keep their brains open and their imaginations active, they'll be able to come up with solutions for the plagues and problems that beset us, then put the solutions into action.

I closed by telling that 'hope' is one of my favorite words (my own Hope smiled incandescently at that point). It means dreaming about things being better, then working to make those dreams come true. I encouraged them to be dreamers and doers, and as I looked into their bright faces, I felt the enormity of their potential and an increase in my own hope for the future.

And speaking of children being the luminous hope of the future, please go spend some time with the Tumaini Kids. Have your children visit, too. A blogging friend introduced me to the site, and I am better for having visited. I plan to go back often; these children and their leaders are an inspiration.

Friday
Apr202007

To [Write] of Many Things

Well, what a relief. Tess's surgery is behind her and she is recovering nicely so far. My anxiety level has abated sufficiently for me to be able to play some blog catch-up.

The fabulous and articulate Bub and Pie was interviewed meme-style recently; after giving her answers, she asked her readership if anyone was interested in being tagged. Of course I raised my virtual hand! Here are her questions and my answers.

1. What are your favourite D.E. Stevenson books?

First, thank you for pluralizing the question; I never could have chosen just one. But if it were a life-or-death issue, I'd pick Anna and Her Daughters. I also love Bel Lamington, Amberwell, Listening Valley, and Mrs. Tim of the Regiment. Mrs. Tim is written in diary form, and I recommend it highly as a model for any mommyblogger. If Mrs. Tim were in possession of a computer and internet connection (and if she were not a fictional character), she would be at the top of my blogroll. The Young Clementina is also terrific, but has a higher ratio of bitter to sweet than is usual for Stevenson (not a bad thing).

Actually, I've never read a book by Stevenson that I didn't like. She was a prolific writer, having had over 40 books published in her lifetime. Riches! I tend to hoard unread books by dead writers I love. I parcel them out to myself slowly, because I dread the day when I come to the end of his/her body of work. I realize that this is a bizarre habit.

I love Stevenson as much for the lovely images she conjures as for her characters and stories. Examples: the children’s secret rhododendron hideaway, Ponticum House, in Amberwell; Bel’s rooftop garden in Bel Lamington; the bucolic Scottish village of Ryddelton in many of her books; the old grey church with the leper window in The Young Clementina.

Note to Publishing Universe: Stevenson needs to be back in print! I keep hoping that Persephone, with their high regard for female writers of the early 20th century, will get on the stick. They republished Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Making of a Marchioness and Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. They’re a perfect fit for my dear Dorothy Emily.

2. What is your Myers-Briggs personality type? (And did you know it off the top of your head or did you have to go to humanmetrics.com to find out?)

I totally had to go to the website. I loved taking that test! It was like one of those Seventeen magazine quizzes from when I was a kid. (Trying to look intelligent after that disclosure.) But I do realize it is serious science.

The results: I am an INFJ: Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging. The I, the N and the J were expressed moderately, while the F was expressed distinctively.

According to the website, my type makes up less than two percent of the population. The explication of my personality was all very flattering (Eleanor Roosevelt and Mohandas Ghandi were also INFJs!!!), but I suspect that everyone is rewarded with an ego boost when they read his/her results.

3. What are the most important rules to follow in naming one's children?

Ahh, grasshopper, we have indeed had much experience in this area. I'll list the guidelines we used in order of ascending importance.

a) Consider using names of relatives or close friends whose character attributes you would like to see embodied in your child.
b) Enjoy the happy coincidence when the names you've chosen are those of favorite literary characters, songs, prophets, and/or versions of the Bible. (For parity's sake, this link and this link, too.)
c) If you have a common last name, choose a more unusual first name.
d) If you have a difficult last name, give your child a break with something easy and/or short.
e) Check the monograms of your potential choices; eliminate any that might cause embarrassment.
f) Say the full potential name aloud and ensure that it flows metrically.
g) Go to the SS website and check the popularity of your candidates. Consider avoiding any in the top ten unless you really, really can't.
h) Research the meanings of the names you are considering.
i) Ignore lists you made when you were 12 years old. Unless you are naming a cat. Even then, tread cautiously.
j) Have a back-up name, and resist definitely settling on one choice until you have seen the child.
k) Compromise amicably with your spouse and work as a two-person team. Try to ignore suggestions from other people, includng in-laws and your other children, no matter how adamant they may be. If we hadn't done this, Hope would instead be named 'Sedutto,' after five-year-old Christian's favorite Manhattan ice cream shop.

4. What is your favourite colour and what does that reveal about you?

I immediately thought of The Holy Grail when asked this question. In order to foil the maniacal bridgekeeper, I will counter with a question (favorite color of what?), then give a multi-part answer:

Chocolate: Brown
Ice Cream: Caramel
Baseball Uniform: Blue and Orange
House: Roycroft Bronze Green
Horse: Palomino
Rose: Sharifa Asma pink
Sky: Maxfield Parrish blue
Wool (this week): Two-way tie between Hollyhock and Northern Lights
007: Three-way tie between Ash Brown, Chestnut Brown, and Blond

What does this reveal about me? That I can’t for the life of me give a simple answer to a simple question.

5. Do you live to work or work to live?

Ummm, may I live to play?

I ask that question seriously. I am handsomely provided for by my prince of a husband, which means I have the great luxuries of staying at home to raise our children and spending my spare time pursuing my various obsessions: writing, reading, knitting, cooking, eating, and gardening.


My gratitude to God for this great gift does bring with it a sense of obligation to find ways to give back something meaningful to society. This recognition also makes nearly all (but not ironing) of my work feel like play most of the time. Sorry to sound like a Pollyanna, but it's true.

Thanks for the honor, B&P! Now it's my turn. If any readers, onymous or lurking, would like to be interviewed, leave me a comment, and I'll think up some questions just for you.

Wednesday
Apr182007

Budding Lilacs

Pardon the fuzzy image; I'm so excited I can barely stand it. My lilacs are budding for the first time ever! I'll refrain from getting all Whitmanesque or Eliotish on you, but you have to understand.

We moved here in the summer of 2001. That fall, a kind lady in our congregation cut several suckers from her bushes and brought them to me after hearing me rave about how much I wanted to have lilacs in our yard. I planted them, knowing virtually nothing about gardening at that time.

Later I read that lilac suckers take four to five years to bloom. I was a little crestfallen, but I had already begun to learn that a lot of the gratification in gardening is deferred.

Last spring I allowed myself to hope, but the lilacs weren't yet ready. After this crazy winter (which lingers overlong), I didn't know what to expect. But I checked the bushes just now and was thrilled--so thrilled that what looks like a snake hole right near them didn't really faze me. (I'm sure it will later.)

Tuesday
Apr172007

Concrete Thinker

Here's a quick recap of a conversation with Tess on the way to the doctor's today. We were listening to Annie Lennox's cover of "Train in Vain" in the car.

Tess (referring to the song's lyrics): "Who didn't stand by her?"

Me (guessing): "Her boyfriend."

Tess: "Oh. That's naughty."

And who can argue with that?

Tuesday
Apr172007

News from the Home Front

1) How does she do it? I don't understand how Hope makes pigtails look far more runway model than Little House. (Perhaps it's the faux leopard collar on the sweater Carmen brought her from England.) She's just so gorgeous, gushed the completely objective mother.


Hope's Irish Dance recital was very exciting last Saturday. Hope has only been taking lessons for a couple of months, but she and the other beginners did very well during their three-minute performance.

The three-hour recital was quite the interesting introduction for this mom into the world of junior Riverdance wannabes (and their parents--oy vey iz mir). For one thing, I don't really understand the concept of the dance wig. Especially not the team wig. The tiaras, I get. But if anyone can enlighten me on the wig whys and wherefores, I'd be grateful.

All befuddlement aside, there were a lot of very talented and experienced kids up on that stage. Hope's dance school is apparently quite prominent in the close-knit world of Irish dancing, and for good reason. Many of the numbers were a genuine thrill. Hope came away very inspired.

2) Memorable quote from Tess this past Sunday: "My favorite kind of dog is puppies." Indeed. Tess's surgery is this Thursday; we so appreciate your prayers and well wishes on her behalf.

3) I so wish you could see Daniel's dance interpretation of Diego's 'Rescue Pack' song. It is entertainment of the highest order. Especially when he is wearing his footie pajamas with the lobsters all over them.

4) James has got himself a bran-new blog. He'll be posting the thrilling details of Saturday's (Little League) Mets vs. Dodgers game very soon.

5) Christian is going to start a fencing class. He had it in his mind that it wasn't going to be very hard, saying something like, "It's just waving skinny swords around." I hastened to disabuse him of that notion.

I took a fencing class in college; I will never forget the first day of instruction. We practiced forward lunges for a solid 45 minutes. BYU alumni, you'll get this part of the story. There are about a million (okay, maybe 150) steps up the hill from the Richards Building (gym) to the Maeser Building (where my next class was). It took me at least ten minutes to get up that flight of stairs. I thought my quads were going to explode. I don't care how carefree Errol Flynn and 007 make it look; fencing ain't easy, son.

6) Goldberry has been much more docile and easygoing about feeding times since we took her off her diet. Instead of waking me up at 4:43 a.m., she deigns to wait until 5:58.

7) Patrick is working hard down in the Bat Cave. I discovered a new treat for him yesterday: Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough Cone. It's an American version of Patrick's childhood love: the cornet (non-Francophiles: think 'drumstick'). Which reminds me: today is B&J's annual Free Cone Day!

8) It's a good thing Melissa didn't peek through the garage doors when she came to pick up the milk pails this morning, because I was giving my all as I lip-synched my way through the Communards' "Don't Leave Me This Way" while finishing my workout on the dreadmill. (AaahhhhhhhhhHHHHHH, Baby! My heart is full of love and desire for you!) That song makes me want to run as fast as I can no matter how tired I am. Maybe I should put it on again right now to get myself psyched up to go and do some laundry.