Monday, December 28, 2009

Year in Review

In looking over my resolutions from last year, I did pretty well at predicting what I'd be able to accomplish in 2009. My youngest child is potty-trained, I took a family relationships course with my husband, I finished my third book and am thinking about a fourth, I've spent this Christmas season belting out the soprano lines of carols I would never have dreamed of singing in the past, I finally mastered "Caribbean Blue" on the harp, I had a garden going all year, I cut back on my outside commitments (sorry PTA and piano students!), and I learned to express my inner thoughts so well that I've irritated everyone around me.

One thing I didn't do was keep up the weekly book reviews on my book review blog. I love my book review blog, but it conflicted with one of my other goals - to do less and be more.

This year, I have one resolution. I want to obtain and maintain a change of heart. In the last few months I've realized that I judge other people too harshly. I need to look at the good in everyone and trust that everyone is doing the best they can. I need to feed and nurture and encourage instead of criticize. I need to love people as they are, not wish they were different. This is what I resolve to do in 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

As Seen on "Mormon Mommy Writers"

I am very happy to share that I've been invited to be a weekly blogger on "Mormon Mommy Writers," one of my favorite blogs. I'll be posting on Tuesdays. Check it out:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Earthcrosser Ready for Readers

I now have my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel ready for test readers. Please let me know if you'll have time between now and mid-January to read and make a few comments on a 250 page book written for 11-13 year old readers. It is sort of like "Little House on the Prairie," except with ICBM's and deadly bio-weapons (that would have kept Ma and Pa busy!), and should appeal to readers who enjoyed Lois Lowry's "The Giver" and Margaret Peterson Haddix's "Among the Hidden."

Leave a comment if you'd like to volunteer!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Caroling Party

Caroling party! Next Wednesday, my place. Let me know if you want to come and I'll give you the details.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas at the Post Office

"The line is out the door," a grey-haired woman with sparkly, Christmas ornament earrings warned me as I pulled my four-year old from the car in the post office parking lot.

"Oh, I'm just dropping this off," I smiled and showed her my package, complete with shipping label paid for on the internet and printed out the night before. I know I could call the postal worker and have them come pick up the package, but that would mean I'd need to know when I would be at home. Besides, I have an aversion to telephones.

So there I was, dropping off the package at the post office. My son and I went through the front doors, and sure enough, the line stretched out into the lobby. A shorter line stood in front of the automatic postal machine, the one that can print shipping labels if you swipe your credit card. I'd never seen a line for that dreadfully slow machine, not ever! This was serious.

I towed my son past the line, straight to the package receptacle in the wall by the letter slot. "Here, do you want to put it in?" I put the box in my son's hands. "Here, put it in. It's going to eat it!" I said with gusto as I pulled down the handle to open the package receptacle.

"Well, I hope not!" chuckled a man standing behind me with three large boxes in his arms.

I grinned at him, then encouraged my son, "Put it in."

My son lifted the box high over his head and tipped it into the receptacle. I let the door swing back up as I made a big slurping sound and then a gulp. "Yum!"

Everyone in line laughed. I smiled at them, then chased after my son as he dashed for the lobby doors.

As I buckled my son back in the car I thought sadly of the day soon to come when I'd no longer have a little child to run errands with me. I could never have gotten all those people to laugh by myself.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gummi Bear Castle

Each year on Thanksgiving weekend, we make a gingerbread creation. Here's this year's entry: The Gummi Bear Castle.

We made the windows by cutting holes in the pieces of cookie dough, then filling them with crushed hard candies. In the oven, the crushed candy melts and turns into a colored window pane.

My daughter, the gingerbread architect, drew up the plans for the castle. She helped me put it together, then all the children decorated it the next day.

Welcome to the Gummi Bear Castle!

My son had the idea to have one of the bears on the battlements look through a telescope.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So That's the Problem!

I finished revising my book again, then set it aside for a week. At first I had a hard time bringing myself to read it, afraid of what I might find. But once I picked it up and started going, it was great! I've heard authors lament that they can't enjoy their own books. Not my experience. I forgot I'd written it. I forgot I was reading. I became totally absorbed in the story.

And then I got to the ending.


This revision was supposed to repair the ending, but somehow I still dropped the ball and it rolled away somewhere. The ending left me completely flat. What happened? What went wrong?

After scratching my head for a few days, I decided to make a chart. I took a piece of poster board, named the twelve most important story threads along the top, and then jotted the chapter numbers down the side. Skimming through the book, I followed each thread, chapter by chapter. And lo...

Of the twelve major story threads, five are left with NO ENDING. Not just left unresolved. Left OUT! Completely unmentioned in the final chapters. And of those five dangling threads, three are important relationships between the main character and other major characters in the book. Now I don't want everything tied up neat with a bow, but I do need to at least give a hint of some level of resolution or some new direction for each of these threads.

I meant to re-submit this book before the end of the year, but it is more important to GET IT RIGHT! Back to work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Harp Template

I've had several requests by e-mail for plans for my harp. Sadly, I don't have detailed plans drawn up. But I laid out the one drawing I did and put an inch ruler down beside it to show the scale. Here it is - good luck!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Joys of Life

Let me tell you what's really great - jogging through a bright autumn morning, trying to keep pace with my four-year-old son on his training-wheel bike. Crunching through yellow leaves. Stopping to shout out the amazing discovery of pine cones on the sidewalk. This is the good stuff.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Last Chapter

I wrote 3000 words today! That's top form for me. I did it by writing for one hour first thing in the morning before the children got up, and then by doing housework until one in the afternoon when I sat down for my usual writing time. Writing a little extra in the morning got my brain chewing on the next scene, and by the time I'd cleaned and vacuumed the upstairs I was ready to sit down and let it all pour out.

So who is up for test-reading? I know it is the busy holiday season, but hey, you need to take a break now and then, right?

Friday, November 13, 2009


Writers need patience.

Writers need patience when they first start out. When you write your first story, hey, that's great! You're on your way! Now, go write five whole books, pour sweat, blood, and tears over them until they're the very best they can possibly be, and then put them all in a box in the garage because only now are you ready to write something worth publishing.

Writers need patience when they finally get to that book that's going to be the one. Books are like delicate little plants growing in a greenhouse in early spring. Send them out too soon, send them out before they're ready, and they die. It is so hard to wait, so hard to do one more revision, so hard to think it all through and think it all through again. But, with time, the ideas grow stronger, the characters grow stronger, the story grows stronger.

Writers need patience when the time comes to submit. Researching agents and editors, preparing query letters and synopses, all of this takes time away from writing. And then the waiting. The eternal waiting. Six weeks, eight weeks, three months... yes, you can draft a new novel in the time it takes to hear back on a submission. I know. I've done it.

Writers need patience as their agent or editor asks for revisions. I have a friend who was asked to do four re-writes before signing a contract, and then another four re-writes after. It takes years, years upon the years already spent in learning the craft, to create a book and get it ready for printing.

So the next time you hold a good book in your hands, think of all the patience that went into it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Love the Internet

Today I'm drafting a new ending for my science fiction novel. I don't know how people used to write science fiction before they invented the internet. Right in the middle of a paragraph I can open up a window and in a few clicks I have several newspaper articles about actual hostage situations to read, plus a chart of the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Great Tomato Cover-Up

I've been trying for six years now, and I have not yet been able to grow a tomato in Henderson, Nevada. This week I checked on the internet and found out that tomatoes don't like temperatures colder than 53 deg. F or hotter than 95 deg. F. That means the only time tomatoes would be happy here would be for about one day in April and then maybe one week in September.

So, even though it is nowhere near freezing at night yet, I go out and cover up my tomatoes every evening. They seem to be enjoying it. In fact, I think some of them are getting ripe, even though it is already the middle of November.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Your Security Certificate Has Expired

I couldn't get gmail to work on my computer this afternoon. Firefox kept telling me the site wasn't secure. Baloney! I uninstalled Firefox and tried again, just in case something had gotten buggy.

It still didn't work! Even with a fresh, newly down-loaded version of Firefox.

My husband came over to help. In the "Untrusted Connection" window, he clicked on the technical details. Here's what it told us: uses an invalid security certificate.
The certificate expired on 3/27/2010 3:20 PM.

"Expired in 2010? It hasn't expired yet! What's it talking about?" I asked.
My husband suggested, "Looks like we have a problem with the computer's internal clock."
"Oh!" I moaned and buried my face in my hands. "That's it! I set the date to June 2086! That's when my book happens, and I wanted to know what dates went with what days of the week."

So if I didn't answer your e-mail today, it's only because I left my computer 77 years in the future.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Earthcrosser Update

A lot of people ask me how the book is coming. My answer - coming along slow! It is now six weeks since I got the letter from the editor saying she'd read it again if I revised. I'm only half-way through the manuscript, and I'll want to go through it a full two times before I send it back. This time, I'm going to get it right. I have a feeling that this can be a really great book, and I'm willing to put in the work to get it there.

But right now my children are on track-break, and I'm settling in to my new calling as Primary President, and so I'm letting Earthcrosser move slow. A little bit every day. I'm still making progress. I'll get there.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

If I Wasn't a Writer...

If I quit writing I could take my son to the park for two hours every day.

One year until Kindergarten. Maybe I should take a break.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Doin' the Numbers

Today I learned that the tap water in my town has an average of 325 mg/l of calcium carbonate in the water. That means if I drink two liters of water every day, I'll get 60% of my recommended daily calcium intake! FROM THE WATER!

Mooooove over, Bessie!

Last night I got mad when I found out how much my husband's new health benefits package from his new job is going to cost us every month. Then I dug out all our dental bills from last year and tallied them up.


That health plan, well, they ain't gonna be making any money on us.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Take Your Medicine

Allergy season is here! Loratadine works well for me, when I take it. This morning I felt good. I felt fine. I thought, "I don't need my allergy pill today."

By noon I'm sneezing and sitting on my hands to keep from rubbing my eyes.

Silly me.

I changed my mind and took my medicine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Is That Your Bird In There?

My four-year-old had a friend over to play this afternoon. As her mom and I were chatting, the little girl came over and asked me, pointing to the fireplace, "Is that your bird in there?"

Both of my pet birds were safe in their cages. I gave the little girl an indulgent smile, "What bird?"

She pointed at the fireplace again. I tried to see what it was that might look like a bird to her. The huge terra-cotta pot packed with dried coriander stems? No. The logs in the fireplace?

I peered into the darkness behind the smoke-stained glass. Something blinked at me.

"There's a pigeon in there!"

A gorgeous, green, purple, and grey bird perched on top of the logs, cool as anything--like he owned the place. He must have flown down the chimney. It was so dark in there I never would have seen him if my son's little friend hadn't pointed him out.

After I took a picture, I went out to the garage to get a pair of gloves. I thought catching the bird would be easy. The fireplace was small, the pigeon looked calm, and I have a way with birds. "Hey, baby, it's okay, I'm going to take you outside now," I cooed as I pulled aside the metal screen.

The pigeon did not know what was good for him. He flapped around the fireplace, sending clouds of stinging ash into my face. I tried to do it gracefully at first, but after a while I just grabbed at whatever presented itself - feet, tail feathers, wings. At last I got a grip on something, then took him between my hands and pulled him out into the room. He kept his wings spread--beautiful feathers! I could feel his heart beating fast.

I carried him out the back door, opened my hands, and let him fly away. It's a good thing someone noticed him - he was in serious danger of starving to death before anyone saw him. Now I just have to clean up all the ash on the carpet.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Mystery of the Mysteriously Disappearing Tomato Plant

I planted my fall garden yesterday with six rows of cool-weather vegetables and four tomato plants. This morning when I went out to water...

ONE TOMATO PLANT WAS GONE! Gone without a trace. I know there was a tomato plant there yesterday! This must be the work of a dastardly cutworm. Where's the bug spray?

Monday, August 31, 2009

One Day Until September

On my walk back from the school this morning the wind blew down through the pines and I felt like autumn. What was it? The low angle of the sun? The color of the shadows? The breeze that promised cooler weather?

It is over a hundred degrees outside. I'm ready for some relief.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


My children are growing up surrounded by cameras---digital cameras, video cameras, cell phone cameras. Any time you want you can snip out a piece of life and store it on the hard drive. What does that do to their little brains?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Carlson Home for Neglected Instruments

On Sunday afternoon the latest addition to my collection of orphaned instruments arrived. A friend of mine found it abandoned in the garage of her daughter's new house and asked me if I wanted it---an old-fashioned electric organ with foot pedals.

The first time we turned it on, I thought it was going to catch on fire. It made this massive WHUMP sound, like someone snapping a blanket in the air. Even after we shut it off again we could smell the dust burning inside. I slept on the couch that night with a fire extinguisher next to me on the end table.

I found an electric organ technician on the internet who assured me my dinosaur organ has a good set of fuses inside and will not spontaneously combust. He thinks he can repair the broken keys in the swell and re-attach the foot pedals. I'll have him over once we've got a paycheck in the bank. In the meantime, my husband enjoys practicing the organ at home rather than having to go to the church.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leap of Faith

I contributed to my IRA today. If I'd been sharp and savvy I would have done it a few months ago when the stock market was still severely depressed. This morning I found a note I'd scribbled to my husband during church last spring. It said-

Did I mention that my IRA earned $3000 this quarter?
My husband looked really impressed. I grinned and added another line.
Now it's up to $8000
My husband's expression turned to surprise and alarm. Before the crash I had over 20K. With a rueful smirk I penned one more sentence.
I don't even want to know...

Don't tell me what the bottom of that pit was. I didn't look and I don't want to know.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harping Away

Yesterday afternoon I ordered the materials to build three new harps. I had just come home from playing my 29 string harp at a funeral. Because I had focused so much on my writing this past year I had stopped practicing the harp every day. Four days before the funeral, when I was called and asked to play, I accepted eagerly. Two days later I thought I was going to have blisters on my finger-tips. No amount of catch-up practicing could make up for all those long months that my harp sat in the corner.

Never again. I'm going to practice the harp every day for the rest of my life.

My performance at the funeral went well, and now because of the nice thick callouses I've built up over the last few days I can barely feel the keys under my fingers as I type. After the funeral I got lots of nice comments. It was wonderful to think that an instrument I'd built with my own hands was able to bring peace and comfort to so many people. One of my friends who was there told me she'd always wanted to learn the harp. I had been thinking of building some more harps this fall, so that clinched my decision. Once the three harps are done I will sell them or rent them out to students. There should be more harps in the world!

And this morning, what rolled me out of bed was not some sentence I felt I had to restructure, but a need to know exactly what the angle between the soundboard and the strings should be. Hooray for the internet! The answer: between 30 and 40 degrees, closer to 30 for a modern concert harp.

For more info on how to build a harp, visit my How to Build a Harp page.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rebecca Reviews: Whisper of the Heart & Ponyo

I have a new favorite Miyazaki film - Whisper of the Heart. Miyazaki did the screenplay and the storyboard for this charming romantic comedy, produced in 1995 by Studio Ghibli. Shizuku, an aspiring writer who should be studying for her high school entrance exams, instead throws herself into writing her first story. She's never worked this hard at anything in her life. Inspired by her friend Seiji, who dreams of being a violin maker and who has gone to Italy for the summer to try out as an apprentice, Shizuku feels this is her one chance to prove herself. In the end, what they both learn about themselves and their talents rings true for any young artist - you're not great yet but you could be. Keep learning!

What I loved best about this film was its portrait of life in Tokyo. Loving touches - like the way bugs swarm around a florescent light at night, or the way sunlight gleams of metal railings and dapples the ground when it shines down through the trees, or the experience of a ride on a public train - made me feel as if I'd spent a summer in Japan.

Once again, what worked for Ponyo, Miyazaki's latest film, was the setting. I loved the small Japanese port town, the winding roads, the mountains, and the sea. When the typhoon came I felt the power of the wind and rain, and I loved the sheer imagination of the sea magically rising and burying the whole town underwater, with devonian age fishes swimming through the streets.

But, unlike Whisper of the Heart, Ponyo lacked a compelling story. I spent a lot of time wondering what was going on, why the characters were doing what they were doing, and why I was supposed to care. Ponyo, a plucky little fish-girl, the daughter of an evil wizard and the sea goddess, gets stuck in a glass jar and is rescued by a small human boy. Somehow this leads to the world getting entirely out of balance, the moon falling closer to the earth and the seas rising. In order to set things right the evil wizard and the sea goddess arrange a test for the boy, a test which left me scratching my head wondering why I'd been sitting there for nearly two hours if that was all we were leading up to.

I also felt disappointed by the animation. It was much more simplistic than I've come to expect from Studio Ghibli. The backgrounds were brightly colored and impressionistic, the characters were lacking in form. Not one of Miyazaki's better films.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Wheel of Time Turns Slowly

This afternoon I came upon my husband reading The Eye of the World, first book of Robert Jordan's popular Wheel of Time series. I frowned when I saw how the pages lay. "Hey, you're still only a quarter of the way done with that book."
"I fell asleep once," he said.
"Twice!" I reminded him. The first time he cracked the book he fell asleep before page thirty. Then he'd fallen asleep again when he'd tried to read it the next day.
He raised his eyebrows at me. "No, today. I fell asleep once today."
I laughed. "That makes three times!"
When I was a teenager I really enjoyed that book. My dad bought the sequels for us, each one as they came out. But my husband has never been a big fantasy fan. He just loves Brandon Sanderson's books, and Brandon Sanderson has the honor of finishing the Wheel of Time series in Robert Jordan's absence. My husband wanted to read some of the earlier books before Brandon Sanderson's installments to the series come out.
No hurry, Mr. Sanderson! The reading is going to take a good long time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Best Meteor Shower Ever

Last night we went out to the dry lake bed and watched the Perseid Meteor Shower. I had never seen so many! My daughter counted thirty-five between 8:30 and 11:00 pm. I didn't see that many because instead of watching the sky the whole time I was watching small boys run around in the dark. The ones I did see were spectacular.

The meteor shower peaked last night, but it is still going on. Catch some dark skies tonight and get your taste of wonder.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Homework Machine II

Here's a better video, taken from the second row. Now you can appreciate the machine in all of its glory. We raided the garage and put it together in one afternoon. Maybe that's why it works so well.

Friday, July 31, 2009

It Came!

My husband's high school teaching license came in the mail today! And he's already had two interviews with the high school down the street. With any luck, he'll be employed again by the end of August.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Edit Post

I was sick earlier this month. From July 5th to July 25th I had some horrible kind of respiratory infection that made me feel I was on the verge of pneumonia. Some of my friends have suggested it was the swine flu, but I don't believe it. It didn't feel like flu. It felt like I had knives in my throat and someone was poking my chest from the inside with a stick.

Anyways, I got in the habit of sitting in front of the computer all day. I couldn't walk around and do my housework, could I? Now that I'm healthy again I should catch up on real life, but I've gotten addicted to the "Edit Post" button.

My favorite thing about "instant desktop publishing" is that I can edit even after I've published! Those of you who read my blog posts may have noticed that they change. In subtle ways. A word gone here, a sentence re-structured there. I realized this morning that most of the time I spend on the internet is wasted in narcissistic reading of my own blogs, as I hunt for bits that could be made better.

I have OCED - Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder.

Oh, if only I could edit my comments too!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More or Less Real?

Do blogs make people seem more real or less real?

I remember finding a literary agent's blog back when I first began to send out letters hoping to find someone to represent my books. After I read it I realized that literary agents are real people too. That had never occurred to me. I thought they were little machines they kept in office basements somewhere in New York, little machines that took in manuscripts and spat out rejection letters. It just charmed my socks off to find a literary agent who liked to can applesauce from her own trees-- it shattered my false impression and warmed my heart.

On the other hand, on my friends' blogs I read funny gripes about the mommy life, see pictures of cute crafts and projects, and get extended play-by-play accounts of princess birthday parties with lots of photographic evidence. Is that real life either? Am I really keeping up with my friends by reading their blogs, or would it better to make a phone call? Find out what's really going on?

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Homework Machine

At their elementary school variety show today, two of my boys are doing a creative interpretation of the Shel Silverstein poem, The Homework Machine

We got a better video at the evening show - one where you can actually see the machine, but my husband has taken the camera out of state without downloading it. Check back again in two weeks.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You're Well Prepared

For my last science fiction novel I made a research trip to the Titan Missile Museum. For my next science fiction novel I made a research trip to the National Ignition Facility. Some time in the summer of 2010 they plan to fuse atoms in that big blue cement ball behind me using a laser array the size of two football fields. In my story, the experiment is a success, but twenty years down the road the implications of a fusion powered civilization turn out to be not so pretty.

In the photo, I'm the third person from the left. See that brown purse in my hand? The security guards searched it three times that day, every time I went through the main gate.

"You're well prepared," the security guard remarked as he dug through my belongings. That was a high compliment coming from a man wearing a bulky black utility vest covered with pockets that contained who knows what kind of national laboratory security guard equipment. "A tape measure, a compass... what's this thing?"
"A pitch pipe." I said as he pulled the fat metal disk out of my purse.
"A what?"
"You blow into one of those holes there and it sounds a note."
The security guard considered this.
"It's a musical instrument," the security guard's partner assured him.
"I carry it around for singing. I've got my back-up group with me right here." I turned to my brothers, my sister-in-law, and a few friends who were going on the tour with us. "What do you want to sing, guys?"
They laughed at me. I was serious. We could have given the guards a good rendition of "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy."
They let me through, pitch pipe and all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Winding My Clock

One of my favorite things in all this world is my antique mechanical clock, which came to me from my grandparents' ranch house in California. It winds up. No batteries, no electric cord. Every day I tighten the springs with a key. It takes me a few seconds, and leaves the clock ticking happily all day long, chiming the hours.

It used to be a good gauge of how much stress I had in my life. When the clock ran down I knew I'd been too preoccupied to remember to wind it.

Last week I wound it up for the first time in over a year. Now it is sharing its music with us again.

It was a rough year!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hooray for the Red, White, and Blue!

Here's a waffle for your 4th of July breakfast. And then what could be more patriotic than helping a couple of boy scouts earn their Space Exploration Merit Badge?

I am Rocket Lady.

Check out this perfect launch and recovery:

Good job, everybody!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Favorite Hat

When I posted about finding my favorite hat, Angela asked for a picture. Here it is:

I like this picture. In fact, I think I'll go swap it in on facebook.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Should Have Brought My Camera

"I should have brought my camera." I stared down at the check on the counter in front of me, the largest check I had ever seen in my life.
"I have to use all of the spaces," my husband chuckled as he filled out the amount on the deposit slip.
Our last check from Nevada State College. Our severance pay. They had been generous, but would this last us until we found another job?
We had stopped by the human resources office to pick up the check on our way to the bank. I almost felt like crying when the HR consultant called up Russel's supervisor at the college and said, "We're finalizing Russel Carlson's separation from the school right now and..." Finalizing... separation... the threat of tears passed before materializing, like an early monsoon thunderstorm that never drops any rain. After that, I felt nothing. I'm through being sad about this. I did all that months ago.
"I have a large check to deposit," Russel told the teller at the window. "It's my severance pay."
"Yeah, everyone is going through that right now. It's nice that they gave you some money, rather than, here's your last paycheck, goodbye."
"Yes," I said, "We're really grateful. This gives us some time."
"There you go," the teller handed me the receipt. She smiled big, and said as if making an inside joke, "Enjoy your summer vacation!"
"Yes," I said, with sudden exuberance. I threw a hand in the air. "We're free!"

I'm A Guest Blogger!

I volunteered to be a guest blogger on Mormon Mommy Writers. They posted my picture and my bio and an essay I wrote about taking time to write every day. It's a really good blog and I'm honored to be a part of it.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Boat Wanted

Does anyone have a little paddle boat, kayak, or canoe I can borrow for a week in August? Maybe I should buy an inflatable raft.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Russel just had his interview with the public school district. It went swimmingly. The principal who interviewed him on behalf of the school district said that some happy high school would probably snatch him up right away.

We're just praying it will be the high school right around the corner so Russel can keep biking to work.

Russel's last day of teaching at Nevada State College is tomorrow. So long and best wishes, NSC! Thanks for bringing us here to Nevada so that we could meet so many good friends.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Amber's Harp Songs

Ten years ago, when I first began to play the harp, I would sit up in my daughter's room at night and practice while she fell asleep.

Now she plays the harp herself, and composes. All her music has a distinctly Celtic feel to it, I imagine because that is the style I was drawn to when I began to play.

Here are three of her original harp tunes:

Dragonflies (short)
Autumn Wind (long)
Days End (longer)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Insurance is Going Away

Yesterday at the dentist I learned that my daughter needed some fillings. Two appointments worth of fillings.

"Can we please do them before the thirtieth? Because that's when our insurance is going away." Darn lay-offs. This is getting complicated.

"Oh!" the receptionist looked duly consternated. "Our office is going on vacation next week. We'll have to do them tomorrow. Can you come at eight-o-clock?"

No, not unless I move heaven and earth to make sure everyone in my seven-person household gets to where they're going in the morning without my serene and time-conscious presence hovering over it all.

"Yes," I said. "Thank you."

As I drove home I tried to work it out in my brain. It made me want to cry. I never expected lay-offs to mean I'd have to go to all this trouble to rush a dentist appointment. My husband would leave for work at eight, my middle two boys would need to leave for elementary school at eight forty-five, my babysitting daughter would be in the dentist chair getting her teeth drilled and so what about the baby? Well, I had another son old enough to babysit, and he would do it if I made it worth his while. I thought since I don't give allowance and he's always asking for ways to earn money a dollar ought to be enough to persuade him.

The only problem would be getting the two boys to school. This is when I am happy I have friends, friends with children the same age as mine.

The first friend I called said, "I'd love to help you, but I'm not sure my children are going to school tomorrow. You see, they're throwing up all over the place."

The next friend I called said she would be happy to pick up two boys on her way to school with her own children.

In the morning I instructed the troops on the master plan. I would leave for the dentist with my daughter. Then Dad would leave for work. The two boys would be dressed and ready to go as soon as my friend came to pick them up. My older son would watch the baby until I returned. The plan was foolproof.

It all came off well, too. I guess I don't have to supervise every little tiny detail every moment after all. The dentist even did all my daughter's fillings in one appointment. In the end of it all, I'm just grateful we found out about the cavities while we still had dental insurance.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Back to Work

The most valuable thing I learned at the BYU writer's workshop was a bit of wisdom from Martine Leavitt. She said, "Once you've been published you will realize that the best part of making books is writing them."

I liked that. I can experience the best part of the process right now! In fact, I'm dashing off the first draft of a new book and loving it. Made it to page 24 today!

On the other hand, Tracy Hickman said, "If it isn't read, it's dead." A book does not become an experience until someone reads it. The more readers I reach, the more my work will live. And the best chance I have to reach a lot of readers is to get a good publishing contract.

Back to work!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I Found My Favorite Hat!

I had not seen it for months and months. It had fallen behind my bed. But I found it! I found it!

Now I can go to the writer's workshop. I have my favorite hat.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Trip to the NIF

I've been in Livermore, California for the last two days so that I could attend the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Open House, celebrating the dedication of the National Ignition Facility.

My brother, Jim, is a programmer there, so he took me and a few other friends and relations on the grand tour. The lab had an impressive set-up - lots of informative displays, people standing by to answer questions, and best of all, the laser itself.

The beam starts out as one tiny diode laser pulse and a few coils of fiber optics. Then they split it into 196 beams and amplify each one a few million times. Each beam gets sent to a path about one foot square and sent through these immense flash-bulb chambers that look like a lightning strike when they go off. Where do they get the power for the flash bulbs? In the basement, an army of monstrous capacitors, rows upon rows, charge up in about sixty seconds and then release all that power so quick it makes the bundles of two-inch coax writhe like snakes as it carries the current to the flash bulbs.

Once the laser beam is pumped up by the flash bulbs, it speeds on to the switch yard. The beams are directed up, down, and all around so that they will focus and converge on one tiny point at the center of a huge ball of metal and concrete - the target chamber.

After walking through this gigantic facility, the size of three football fields, seeing all those flash lamps and capacitors, all that pink neodymium-doped phosphate glass and KDP crystal, and realizing that all this energy is going to be focused onto something the size of a coriander seed - I believe they could fuse some atoms with this thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Solar Cooker Season

See that? That's dinner cooking, nice and easy. By six o'clock this evening we'll have pulled pork in barbecue sauce and solar cooker potatoes. It took me about fifteen minutes to cut up the potatoes and get the cookers set up, and when dinner comes around all I have to do is set the table.

One of my professors at BYU invented this nifty cooking method. The cone-shaped reflector focuses the sunlight on a line at the center. In that line I put a black-painted mason jar with raw food in side, the lid screwed on tight, and a clear plastic bag around it for insulation. Then I sit back, relax, and let old Sol do all the work.

I love physics.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finished At Last!

Last night I finished the last revision of EARTHCROSSER. After two hours of moaning and hissing, and sometimes laughing right out loud, I lay on the floor with my hands over my eyes. I felt like I had just given birth, except the pain was all in my head. My mom had sent me a list of revisions after she read draft 6 and I wanted to get them in while I still had time to rethink, so right after dinner I sat down at the computer.
“Mom, there’s a slice of cheese on the counter. Can I eat it?”
“Mom, did you say I could use a wire coat hanger to make my butterfly net?”
“Don’t talk to me right now, pleeeease!”
“Mom! Mom! Can I play on the Nintendo?”
“Ask your dad. Whatever he says.”
The answer should have been no. It was supremely hard to transport myself seventy-six years into the future in my imagination when my children were talking excitedly over their video game in the other corner of the room. NEXT TIME I want to write immediately after dinner I will do more than say to Russel, “I’m going to write for a while, is that okay?” I will make sure the children have something quiet and engaging to do in some location where I can’t hear them. Better yet, I’ll just remember that I can’t write unless they’re all asleep or all at school.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Need To Be A Little More Clear

"Becka? There's a place here where you need to be a little more clear." My husband sat on the couch, my freshly drafted manuscript beside him.

"Get a sticky note." I got up to come and see what the problem was. Grateful as I am for my husband's often insightful suggestions on my writing, it always irritates my perfectionist side that there are ever any suggestions to make.

"I'm just really confused by the way you start this next chapter."

I read over his shoulder, trying to figure out what the problem was and how many hours it would take me to fix it. "That's not the next chapter. Where's chapter fourteen? You're missing about eleven pages right here."

We both burst out laughing.

"I must have forgot to print that chapter out." I certainly hadn't forgotten to write chapter 14.

"Yes, you really needed to be more clear here."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Three-and-a-Half Chapters To Go!

By tomorrow, Draft 6 will be complete! Anyone have time to read a short science fiction novel for young readers this weekend? I would like a few test readers before I send it back to the editor.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Last Science Fair

"I love this, mom." My first-grader put his small hands around his dusty science fair trophy from last year, lifting it past books and clothes piled on the dresser. He held it up to his chest and looked in the mirror.

Proud but sad, I smiled at him. "You won first place in the last science fair."

This year our school had no science fair. Instead of cardboard presentations that would fill the cafeteria, the children made power-point presentations at school. The first-graders did their experiment in class. I had nothing to do with it. At first I felt relieved - science projects took many hours of my time. One year I had three children in elementary school, and I thought science project season was going to kill me. Let them do it all at school and let me get on with my busy life.

But what is it worth to walk a child through answering a question about the world by using the scientific method? What is it worth to have a child win first place in the science fair? I remember how a writing contest in elementary school changed the course of my life. Maybe my son will want to be a scientist, or at least he'll have a friendly feeling towards the scientific world, because he remembers how good it felt to win that trophy.

I want my science fair back.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


At 5:30 this morning I donned my space suit (dust mask, gloves, work clothes) and climbed into the attic. I should have done it last Saturday, but it hadn't really got hot yet and I was imagining that we could just go all summer without turning on the AC (as we live in Las Vegas, Nevada this demonstrates a serious disconnection with reality).

Many years ago I discovered a leak in the big air duct in the attic, the one that leads from the intake to the machine. At some point someone had tried to climb over the pipe and put their knee down on it, flattening the duct and popping a seam open. Some cracked and crumbly duct tape from an earlier repair was no longer doing any good. Hot, smelly, dusty attic air was being sucked in to my air conditioning unit and then spewed around my house.

Back then, I used fresh duct tape to secure a sheet of aluminum foil over the crack, and that worked for a few seasons. Then last winter I could smell attic air every time the furnace came on. I determined that this year I would not turn on the air conditioning until I had done the repair right.

The grey stuff we call "duct tape" is not very good for repairing ducts. It gets old, cracks, and fails. Nowadays they make a special tape just for repairing metal duct work. I bought some. Armed with my tape, scissors, and a roll of aluminum flashing, I climbed up through the hole and into the attic.

Sure enough, my aluminum foil repair had a rip in it. I tore it away, dusted the duct off, and started the repair. Dust, dust everywhere! Every minute or so I had to wipe dust off the duct so the tape would stick. Crouched precariously with my feet planted on rafters and sharp roofing nail ends inches from my back, I worked while my legs got shaky from the strain.

At last, "TURN ON THE AIR! I WANT TO TEST IT!" I shouted.

"Okay!" my husband's voice called up from the other side of the ceiling.

I felt all around with my hands, but no air moved near my repair. While I was up there I checked the rest of the pipe and found another small leak which I taped up. Last of all I wrapped the insulation blankets around the duct and taped them in place.

I got back out of the attic at about 6:40. After I had cleaned up I stumbled down to the front room and collapsed in a chair. It happened to be the chair that sits right where the air from the vent blows - the best spot in the house on a hot day. Cool, refreshing air washed over me, and not a hint of attic smell. Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Finished At Last

Draft 5 is officially done, but I'm not taking test readers on this one. It is too much of a mess yet. I'm giving myself a break and reading "Spindle's End" before I start mark-ups for draft 6. I know I'm in no state to work on my book right now because I wanted to take a red pencil to Robin McKinley.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Practical Pandemic Preparation

Apocalypse fans haven't given up yet, but it looks like the current swine flu outbreak isn't going to be The Big One.

It is, however, a good reminder to get ready. We all know it's coming someday. Besides having several weeks of food and basic supplies set aside in case I want to avoid breathing in germs at the Wal-Mart, I like to have a simple flu kit for home care.

Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and antacids are all helpful to alleviate flu symptoms. I have enough of each of these for maximum dosage for two weeks per person in my household. I also have some sugar and salt on hand to make oral rehydration solution. The recipe is: 1 quart water, 3 Tbsp honey or sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt. Dehydration kills flu victims that would otherwise recover - keep hydrated! Of course you should call your doctor if you get the flu - he or she will tell you how much of everything you can take and help you decide if you need to go to the hospital or not.

I made up my last flu kit during the bird flu scare a few years ago. Everything in it was expired, so I bought a fresh batch today at Costco. Cost me all of $26.07 for all the OTC meds I needed for seven people. It's simple. Be prepared.

I Haven't Been Punished Yet

Three years ago I did a Career Week presentation on being a homemaker. Why not? No one pays me for it, but that's what I do. One of the teachers made me feel really good by saying, "I want to come live at your house."

This year I went ahead and signed up for Career Week as an author. Why not? No book contract yet, but I've sold a few stories to magazines, and one editor said she'd look at a rewrite of my latest manuscript. I'm up and coming!

I presented thirty-minute sessions for eight different groups of children ranging in age from Kindergarten to third grade. The third-graders impressed me by naming over a dozen authors in just a minute or two. It reminded me why I'm doing this. We talked about practicing writing every day, I showed them how to write a cover letter to submit a story to a magazine, and then I talked about how to publish books (that last one on a theoretical basis only).

One of my friends told me that her son came home and reported, "We saw Mrs. Carlson at school today. Did you know she's written three books but she hasn't been punished yet?"

Someone punish me, please.

This is Your Lunch?

Today at school we had Family Picnic Day. On this day, parents can come in during lunch period and have a picnic lunch out on the school playground with the students.

I was running late this morning so I had my boys get the hot lunch. Right now hot lunch costs $1.50 at our school.

This is what they got:

Now, I know there are budget cuts and food prices have gone up, but really! Three big crackers, tomato sauce, and some shredded cheese? It wasn't even warm. There was ice on the bottom of the sauce.

My son assured me that hot lunch is usually better than this, but it still cost me $1.50.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Preparing for Pandemic

A few years ago, after the Bird Flu scare, I quietly did some internet research and created a flu kit with instructions for home care of flu victims, OTC medicines, and other items one might want to have on hand if quarantined to the house in a major flu epidemic. I've used it often, especially the recipe for home-made re-hydration solution. Now with the Swine Flu outbreak I wonder if I'll get to put my flu kit to the test.

I've heard CNN is getting ready for the pandemic too. The Las Vegas Sun reported this morning that "CNN already has graphics and theme music." I'll sell the popcorn!

Frosting Covers a Multitude of Sins

Seven years ago on this day, I gave birth to a son. This means, of course, that I must celebrate the event by baking cupcakes and delivering them to his school.

I'm not a cake mix kind of girl. I like to bake from scratch, using cookbooks handed down to me from my grandmother. This can present a problem since kitchen equipment is just not what it used to be.

In the "American Home" cook book printed in 1966 there's a recipe for "Busy Day Cake." That's for me, I thought. I sifted the ingredients into the bowl, added shortening and milk, then got out my electric mixer. "Mix by electric mixer for two minutes, or 300 strokes by hand," said the directions.

The batter was THICK. After about 30 seconds, I could smell the motor in my electric mixer burning. When I stopped it, tendrils of smoke wafted into the air. I resorted to hand-mixing, counting out loud to 300 while my three-year-old laughed at me.

I filled the paper liners in the cupcake pans about half-full. Then I put them in the oven. Ten minutes later I went back to check and the cupcakes runneth over. Yea, verily, they looked like little shitake mushroom caps spreading on top of the cupcake pans.

After the cupcakes were baked and cooled I cut off the crispy edges and eased them out of the pans. They were a funny shape, but frosting covers a multitude of sins. With blue frosting and green sprinkles, they still look pretty enough to eat.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sorry, I Don't Read Your Blog

To start out, I'd like to thank all 789 of the absolutely unique visitors who have been to my blog (statistic courtesy of Google Analytics). I do wish I had time to return the favor! I just wanted to say I'm sorry, but in those two or three hours you spend every day surfing the internet, reading blogs and the like, I'm trying to write a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel for readers age 9 - 12.

According to Google Analytics, exactly seven people on the whole internet have actually read the first chapter of that novel which I posted some months ago on my personal website. That's okay. It's only draft four. Wait a month or so and I'll have draft six ready for volunteer test-readers!

Harp Memories

In honor of my recently departed, lovingly crafted 36 string lever harp, here's a link to a couple of audio files I made using it:

The First Nowell

In The Bleak Midwinter

And if you enjoy these you can all thank Pmom for asking if she could hear me play sometime.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Now We Are Thirty-Six

with apologies to Mr. Milne

Creep, creep, the wrinkles creep
And grey creeps in my hair
And round my waist, and at my hips
I'm getting wider there.

If I should go play tennis
Next day it is my luck
To feel as if my arm had been
run over by a truck.

My children jump in to the pool-
I think the water's much too cool.
Instead I sit and read a book
And think about what I should cook.

I used to go to plays and shows,
go dancing, singing in the street.
It seems like too much trouble now-
I'm just feeling kind of beat.

If I should live to seventy-two
That means I'm half-way there!
I think I'll sit and rest a while
And ponder o'er each weary mile
That lies behind, and still ahead,
Or maybe I'll just go to bed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's Only Pain

My allergies are winning. At dinner tonight, my husband passed me the broccoli and said, "Wow, you look really bad!"

I know I do. I looked in the mirror when I washed up for dinner. The skin around my eyes is blotchy, red, and swollen. It takes all the self control I have not to gouge my eyes out with my knuckles. I meant to go to a show tonight, but it is an outdoor show and I think that if I sit for two hours in the pollen-infused wind my eyes will swell shut.

My eyes feel better when they're closed. Maybe I should go to bed now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Goodbye Harp

Cracks appeared several months ago in the soundboard of my big lever harp. Last night the cracking got so bad that the harp won't hold tune anymore. I tuned it up one last time and played it for a while, then got startled out of my seat by a loud snap as another section began to splinter.

It lasted five years - not bad for what it was. My friend Heidi James and I designed it on a whim and she spent three years off and on in building it. After I adopted it I continued to work on it, adding levers and reinforcing the pillar. There's nothing I can do about that soundboard, though. The corner of my front room is going to look very empty without a big harp in it.

I am considering buying a new soundboard ($70) and rebuilding it. A new set of strings would be nice too. Or maybe I should wait until I get an advance on my first novel and just buy myself a new one.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

With This Thermostat, Dare I Say It ...

My power company sent me a flier in the mail about a new energy saving program. If I sign up, they send a technician to install a free programmable thermostat in my home. This thermostat is linked to their computer system, and during peak demand times it will go into "conservation mode." The rest of the time, however, it is mine to control! Bwa ha ha ha ha!

Sounds like another good idea for a science fiction story. What if Nevada Energy wants to take control of the Las Vegas Valley by threatening to shut off all our air conditioning units and cook us in the summer heat? Some clever main-character will have to foil their dastardly plan by figuring out how to disconnect the thermostats and hot-wire the air-conditioning units.

I don't think the literary agents will be lining up for that one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The One Less Serving Club

I have reached that stage of life where I need a new wardrobe --- not because my clothes are all out of style, but because they're getting too tight.

I can't afford another wardrobe this year.

Instead, I've started a One Less Serving Club. If I'm gradually gaining weight and I don't have any other health problems then that probably means I eat more than I need to. Let's face it - most Americans eat more than they need to. My son (who has been slightly overweight since fourth grade) and I made a pact to eat one less serving at every meal. He used to eat three or four servings of everything, but now he has two, sometimes three. I used to eat two or three, but now I have one. I can eat whatever we're having - I simply eat less of it. When it comes time for dessert I have some, I just have less than I used to.

I started this about three weeks ago. On the third or fourth day I felt hungry between meals, but then that went away. Now if I try to eat two servings at a meal, my stomach feels too full! I still can't get into that cute denim skirt I used to wear in college, but that's not my goal. I feel great knowing I'm no longer wasting food that I don't need to eat.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nancy Drew Vs. War Games

We had a double-feature night tonight, Warner Bros. 2007 version of "Nancy Drew" Vs. MGM's 1983 sci-fi classic "War Games." One of my old physics professors said that once a theory is proved false it acquires "classical" status. That's the sense of the term I'm using here.

"Nancy" wins hands down. The film is charming. Everything is just a little larger than life, capturing with a wink and a smile the sort of teen adventure fiction that Nancy Drew fans all love. Woven through the mystery and action you'll find a good human story as Nancy struggles to get along in a world where she doesn't fit in, deal with pressure from her dad to kick the dangerous sleuthing habit, and finds that trying to be helpful sometimes hurts. There's a cast of great characters and a whole lot of good one-liners. My favorite was probably Nancy's cheerful and pragmatic reaction to nearly being run over by a car "When someone tries to kill me, that usually means I'm onto something."

As the opening credits of "War Games" flashed across the screen I warned the kids we were going back over twenty years in film-making. First thing they noticed was the silly missile silo set. You see, they've been to the Titan Missile Museum, toured the facility, and met some of the men who used to work there. "After seeing the real thing, it all looks so fake," my son said. No one in my living room believed that the Missile Commander Guy would actually refuse to turn the key when push came to shove. Of course this failure of people to actually turn the key when ordered to do so prompts the U.S. military to turn over control of missiles to a large computer that looks something like a giant, elongated jukebox with lots of blinking red and yellow LED's.

So the movie got off on the wrong foot. We scoffed at the brainless teenage girl who liked to giggle a lot, ask stupid questions, and occasionally kiss the main character. I could not believe the profanity in this film! Do they let them talk like that in PG movies? In fact, we decided in general that all the characters needed brain transfusions, except maybe the old professor. But if everyone had been as smart as normal human beings, the story wouldn't have happened in the first place, so there you go.

Oh, and my favorite line was, "He's intelligent, does poorly in school, estranged from his parents, hardly any friends - perfect candidate for recruitment by the Russians." Oh, yeah, all those punk kids are just commie spies.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Apollo 9 Mission Journal

My science fiction novel includes a space mission launch. While poking around the internet I found the Apollo 9 Mission Journal. This is SO COOL! It shows a map of the spacecraft's orbit around the Earth plus a FULL TRANSCRIPT of the radio transmissions!

Not that I'm going to read the whole thing, but I can skim it for some good concrete details.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What is Santaif?

"What is santaif?" my six-year-old asked as we drove down the street.
"What is what?" I asked.
The other kids all started talking at once.
"That's not a word."
"I've never heard that word before."
"What is it?"
"Santaif!" my six-year-old insisted.
"Did you make that up?" I asked.
"You'll have to spell it," my husband said.
"Where did you see it?" I asked.
"On a train."
"Santa Fe!" we chorused.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Way Back in the Great Recession

My grandmother was born on the eve of the Great Depression. She tells the story of the day the bank men came in their long coats and bowler hats to tell her mother that the loan was foreclosed and the family had to move out. My grandmother's mother had told her to play with her dolls there in the front room - grandmother thinks it was to make the bank men feel extra guilty. Everything turned out fine in the end. They found a large, upscale house to rent for less than a song (the owners were desperate for anything they could get) and the mother slowly saved up money and bought another house near the end of the 1930's.

I wonder what sort of stories my kids will be telling their grandchildren.

"Way back in the Great Recession of the two-thousand-teens we had to sell our i-pods to buy shoes."

"Oh, Grandpa! No way!"

"Yup, and as our computers broke down pretty soon we only had one working computer in the whole house."

"Wow, Grandpa! How did you survive it?"

"I don't know. Mom and dad somehow managed to hang on to our internet service, but they did cancel the cable and satellite TV. The saddest day for me was the day we put our entire DVD collection up for sale on e-bay."

Pass me the handkie.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Opening Pandora's Box

We spent New Year's Eve playing board games with some friends. They asked what kind of music we wanted to listen to. I said, "I like traditional Celtic." They started up their computer and went to and before I knew it I was listening to the Chieftains and friends to my heart's content.

This morning I decided to open my own account with Pandora. It's an internet radio station with no DJ, just a huge catalog and an artificial intelligence that thinks it knows what you like. Unfortunately, this means that listening to music on Pandora can expose you to recordings that never should have happened.

I told it I liked Rockappella, so my AI DJ played me The King's Singers' rendition of "And So It Goes." Words fail me. It just shouldn't have happened.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Finally, FINALLY, after nearly three months, I cracked open my manuscript and read through chapter one. Eh, not bad, but it still needs some work. Especially now that I have some new ideas. Hee hee. My plan - to go through the manuscript slowly, marking it up for revision while creating a working outline.

So far I have written two and 3/4 books in my life, and in every case I spend most of my first draft moodling around, learning about the characters and the world they live in. I have some idea of the plot, some of the time, but I'm so open to all options that pop into my imagination that the stories get scattered. Now it is time to FOCUS! I will find the best story threads I came up with and weave them together into a powerful plot that can pull the reader along through the prose.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Being Smart Isn't Enough

I thought I was smart. I thought that when I bought a house I would pay about three times our annual income. That used to be the rule, right?

When the real estate agent showed us the only four-bedroom houses (we have five children) available in that price range (this was Las Vegas in 2004) I wanted to cry. We ended up paying over five times our annual income and had to get an interest-only ARM to do it. I didn't sleep well for two years until the pay-off penalty expired and we could refinance. Why did we have to do this? Because everyone else was doing it. The banks were loaning too much money to anyone who came along, and so since people could pay that much for a home they did it.

Well, having survived that adventure, I thought I'd just keep being smart and stay out of any more trouble. We had a fixed rate mortgage and a good steady income, so I went about saving a little money when I could, never buying anything on credit, keeping my pantry well stocked, turning the thermostat to 62 in winter and 86 in summer, and avoiding unnecessary use of my gasoline powered vehicle.

Now, as a direct result of the economic recession, my husband, who works for a state college, is being laid off due to budget cuts. Yes, I'm glad I did all those smart things because we're better prepared to be laid off. On the other hand, I can't help but think that we wouldn't be laid off right now if everyone else hadn't borrowed more money than they could pay back!

From now on, it's not good enough for me to be smart. I have to convince other people to be smart too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Space Explorers Ready for Launch!

I signed up to be a merit badge counselor for the "Space Exploration" merit badge at a big merit badge midway for the local Boy Scouts on Saturday morning. I'm going to show dozens of tween-aged boys how Newton's laws of motion operate, show them a video of the Messenger spacecraft's trajectory, discuss the International Space Station, tell them about the careers of some of my friends who work with the space program, and then in two weeks we're going to launch model rockets.

What a blast!

Hey, how come the Girl Scouts never did stuff like this? I remember going camping and stringing beads and learning to dance the Cotton-Eyed Joe. I wanted to shoot BB guns and launch rockets. Maybe that's why the Good Lord sent me four sons.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Just Glue My Foot In My Mouth

"Sealants are quick and easy," I told my six-year-old as we drove to the dentist. "They put a little something like glue on your tooth, and that keeps the plaque from making cavities. No cavities!" I cheered. "Sealants are great."

When we got to the dentist I signed us in. "Did you have any questions?" the receptionist asked.

"I had a billing question," I whipped out a statement I'd just got in the mail with an angry orange "SECOND NOTICE PLEASE PAY IMMEDIATELY" sticker on it. "I know my insurance sometimes doesn't cover all the x-rays, but I really thought they'd pay for the exam."

The receptionist frowned at the statement, then at her computer screen. "Actually, we received full payment from your insurance company the same day this got mailed out," she told me. "You can disregard this."

Way to give me a $213 heart attack. For a moment there I had thought we were eating rice and beans for the rest of the month.

Happy to disregard the angry orange sticker, I sat down with a book while my children played with toys and watched the video on the big screen across the room. My six-year-old sat quietly next to me until the dental assistant called him back. "It will be about thirty minutes," the woman told me.

Thirty minutes later, she came back. "He seems really frightened today. He won't open his mouth. We can try some laughing gas."

That's when I remembered what I had said to my son on the way to the dentist. I had said the word glue. Dang, I bet he thinks they're going to glue his mouth shut.

"We showed him everything we were going to do," the nurse seemed puzzled. "And he was so good for his filling last time."

Just glue my foot in my mouth.

After a few futile attempts to get my son to open up for the dentist, the man told me, "Doing sealants requires a high level of cooperation. We can try sedation or laughing gas, or we could try again some other time."

"Some other time," I said. Some other time after we get our tax return.

Once we got out in the car I gave my son a big hug, "I'm so sorry! Did you think they were going to glue your teeth together?"

He nodded, his big blue eyes full of worry.

"That was my fault. I shouldn't have said glue. Sealants are more like paint. They paint white on your tooth, and once the paint dries it is hard just like your tooth. You won't even notice that it's there. We'll try again some other time."

"Okay." My son didn't look worried any more. "We can try again next week."

"We can try again in the summer time," I said.

"In the spring?" he attempted a compromise.

"In July. That's when your next appointment is. And then you can get your sealants, and your teeth will be super strong."

"Superteeth!" he cheered.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Plumbing Adventures Continued

So the plumbers came at 2:00 today. Since they were only charging me $300 they probably thought the job would take them an hour, maybe two. I hoped so because I had a PTA meeting to attend at 3:30.

The sawing and pounding began. A few minutes into the job I heard words that struck terror into this homeowner's heart. "It broke off, there at the bottom," the plumber's assistant said. "Do you have a torch?"

I lurked near the bathroom door, folding laundry and listening to snatches of irritated conversation and the sounds of tools I hadn't thought they would need, like a torch and a Dremel. What if they had to get the jackhammer out and break into the slab? What if they had to rip off the whole wall?

For a while I avoided eye contact as they went back and forth between their truck. At last I gave the senior plumber a questioning look. He pulled a straight smile and gave me a thumbs up. I hoped that meant that he wasn't going to charge me any more than the estimate.

"We're going out to get another coupler," the plumber said a few minutes later. "We'll be right back."

By the time they got back my older children were home from school, along with a friend each. "They're multiplying," the plumber remarked in surprise when he returned and saw all the kids. I wondered if he really thought that one three-year-old had strewn all the toys, papers, and junk all over the house.

I didn't think I'd make it to the PTA meeting, so I called the secretary to let her know, and then sent the older kids and their friends out to fetch the younger ones from school.

"We've got to get a few more couplers," the plumber said. "We'll come back."

As if I thought they'd abandon me with an open waste pipe in my wall. They wouldn't do that, would they?

My husband had come home by the time the plumbers returned. I introduced them, then started thinking about dinner. With all the commotion in the house I decided Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was all I could handle.

"We need a few more parts," the plumber told me. "Be right back."

All this time, of course, no one could use any of the plumbing upstairs. No sinks, no toilet. It would have flooded the downstairs bathroom with . . . you guessed it.

When my six-year-old finished his homework I rewarded him with a bike ride together around the block. On our second time around I saw the plumbers' truck coming up the street. "We're almost ready to rock and roll," the head plumber said when he came back in the house. I guess that meant he thought he had everything he needed and they were almost finished.

One of my children had to go to the bathroom. Instead of interrupting the plumbers I took him to the next door neighbor's house and asked to use theirs. I was beginning to feel that I ought to invite the plumbers to stay for dinner. Then again, it was only Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

At last, near six o-clock, the plumber asked my husband to turn on the water upstairs. No leaks! I applauded.

"We hit a few snags, but you're good to go now. How would you like to pay?"

I handed over my debit card. "I'm glad I didn't try to do that myself," I said.

A brief, rueful chuckle from the plumber.

Monday, February 2, 2009

More Plumbing Adventures

Since I'm trying to get ready to sell the house I thought I'd get started on the downstairs bathroom. Step 1 - rip off the baseboard. Step 2 - hey, is that WATER IN THERE???

Step 3 - I got my hand saw and started cutting holes in the wall. Before long I found the culprit - a leaky joint in the waste pipe from the upstairs bathrooms.

Oh grooooss.

Maybe I overreacted, but I cut out every bit of the floor that had gotten damp, plus all the wall board that had any traces of mildew or water damage on the back. I was already going to re-do the floor, and I don't mind patching the wall because it used to bulge a little in that spot (hmm. . . I should have suspected something). This picture was taken just after I sprayed everything down with bleach solution.

Today I'm getting estimates on the waste pipe repair.

Plumber #1 wanted to rip another three feet out of my wall and replace a huge section of pipe. Estimate: $1040.00

Plumber #2 thought I had probably ripped out enough wall (he told me all I needed to do was spray it with bleach water and paint over with Kilz. I'd like to know how I was supposed to spray the back side of the wall board). He just wanted to replace the leaky joint area with a rubber boot (just what I would have done if I was brave enough to cut into a waste pipe). Estimate: $285.00

That's better, but still a bit disheartening when your husband was laid off from work last Friday and the free e-file tax return site can't seem to find your account.

I've got one more estimate coming this evening, and then I'll probably schedule the work. In the mean time we're down to one bathroom - unless I want more sewage water dripping.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Anyone Want to Buy My House?

We just learned that we will be unemployed at the end of June, so if anyone wants a nice two story four bedroom 2.5 bath house with a pool, new roof, new stove, new dishwasher, new water heater, great location, great schools, and the best ward ever, do let me know.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Book Review Blog Launched!

Because I love to read and review books, and because web traffic looks good on query letters, I've launched a new blog just for my book reviews. I'll be posting a new review every day, focusing on literature for young readers - picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult fiction. I've labeled all the reviews by category so you can quickly find what you want.

Please stop by! Tell your friends! I'd love to help you find a good book or two.

Rebecca's Recommended Reads

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Don't Mind Inflation

I don't mind inflation. It makes my mortgage look smaller.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fully Operational Battle Station- ah- er- Bathroom!

There it is! Tonight we hung the towel bars. A few cosmetic details remain - some paint touch-up and a new toilet seat. But everything works, nothing leaks, and the floor is waterproof.

I think.

Friday, January 16, 2009

World Building

With four drafts and an encouraging letter from the editor in my back pocket, I'm ready to take on Earthcrosser my way. My teacher at the writing workshop told me to finish the book and submit it as soon as I could, before the editor forgot who I was. That meant my habitual three or four years of world building had to be skipped so I could get on with things and write the prose. No, I'm not going to make the editor wait three years for a re-write, but I'm no longer in a desperate rush. I can let the ideas distill into my brain. I can ask thousands of questions about the world and wait for my imagination to answer. I can think things through until my alternate world approaches the complexity and intensity of real life.

So today I'm having lots of fun figuring out how to destroy modern civilization and keep it down for fifty years. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Voted for McCain

Apparently, President Elect Obama plans to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which, as I understand it, makes abortion a right just like freedom of speech. Underage girls will not need to get parental consent. Partial birth abortions will be legal. Please do your own research on this issue:

If there ever was a time to write your congressman, here it is. We need to focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies, promoting adoption, and supporting women who want to carry their babies to term. Making any and all abortions legal sounds like giving up to me.

Abortion is not an easy and pleasant procedure. I believe convenience abortions degrade women because they invade the sacred wellspring of life. On the other hand, I do not think all abortions should be illegal. There are medical reasons to have an abortion. There are also some instances in which I think an early abortion could be justified for social reasons, such as in the case of rape or incest. But an attitude of "who cares if I get pregnant, I'll just have an abortion" shows a lack of understanding of the significance of the power, the gift, the honor that it is to create human life within ourselves.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Thousand Words an Hour

I got an e-mail back from the editor yesterday. She said she enjoyed my manuscript, gave me some suggestions, and said she'd look at a re-write. That's all I needed to hear. I'm still a million miles away from selling a manuscript, but I feel like I've already crossed a light-year or two.

Today I finally returned to something like my normal routine. My husband had meetings all day, my older children are in school, so it was just me and the three-year-old. At last, a little time to write!

After taking a long holiday vacation from writing I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it. During the quiet afternoon I sat down to work on a funny little folk-tale adaptation and spat out 1000 words in a little over an hour. They were first-drafty-words, but they came rolling out as easily as ever.

I love writing!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Amazing What a Lick of Paint Can Do

On Monday I came home from picking up my elementary school children to find my responsible daughter reading "Spindle's End" by Robin McKinley and my three-year-old drawing on the windows with permanent markers.

The windows were not the only thing he redecorated. The wall that faces the front door had brown and yellowmarker scribbles all over it. Scrubbing would be no use - the wall had never been painted. Ten years ago, long before we bought the house, a fire gutted the interior. The man who bought the place from the bank and tried to fix it up never finished. One of the things he didn't do was paint the walls.

Why didn't I paint the walls when we moved in? Because I was trying to eliminate the deadly hazards like the lack of a stair railing on the inside and the presence of rickety wooden stairs up to a rotting deck on the second story outside in the back. Once I thought my children would survive in the house I unpacked and started living. Had another baby. Wrote a couple of novels. No time to paint.

The permanent marker was the last straw. With no way to wash it off, I got out the brushes, the roller, and the Kilz. After three coats the yellow permanent marker stopped seeping through. Then from my paint collection in the garage I chose a nice light grey brown color that would hide greasy hand prints and dust. After dropping a paper cup full of paint on the tarp, then tracking some onto the carpet (scrubbed it out with rubbing alcohol), then thinking I was going to die of frustration as I worked around all the corners and odd edges, I finally put down the brush and started in with the roller.

Once I had the wall painted I stepped back to look. Tears came to my eyes. It was so beautiful! It looked like a real wall, in a real house! Now I just have to paint all the rest of it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rebeca's Reviews: Someone Named Eva

I love World War II historical fiction, and this is one of the best! Chilling, almost science-fiction-like, it deals with a relatively small Nazi program that kidnapped children from occupied countries who fit the Aryan mold, "reprogrammed" them, and then adopted them out to good Nazi homes. Of course those who couldn't take the reprogramming got shipped off to prison camp.

Clear, unaffected prose let the power of the story shine through. As I read I had to keep reminding myself that this really happened. Sixty years ago in Europe, modern civilization went very, very wrong. Could it happen again? Could it happen here?

I want my children to read this book and see the spiral of destruction that blind hate and bigotry can lead to. This book is a memorial, a warning, and an offering of hope. As I read this book I had the benefit of knowing that the war would end, that Germany would surrender, that some time in 1945 the skies would grow quiet again and the Nazi regime would crumble. I could urge the characters on - hang on, survive a little longer, and the night will be over, and once again you will have a chance to live. If I should ever face such dark times myself, I will remember - the night ends, the sun comes up in the morning.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Don't Forget to Do Your Homework!

My three-year-old son came charging around the corner. "Don't forget to do your homework!" he crowed.

"Hi, E," I said absently as he hurtled past.

"No, no! I'm mom! Don't forget to do your homework!"

Oh brother.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

No More Patch!

After about seven months of patch therapy, my three year old son now has two equally strong eyes! He was diagnosed with amblyopia back in May. When he first started wearing his patch he was so blind in his left eye that he ran into walls and couldn't do his wooden puzzles. Now his left eye works just as well as his right. I'm proud of him, and of myself because I was the one who had to make sure he wore the thing for two hours every day.

But now the doctor says no more patch! In a few weeks we'll go for a check up to make sure his eyes are still equal. Now I have to make sure he wears his glasses every waking minute, but that's easy compared to the patch.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Resolutions for 2009

In reviewing my goals from last year, it looks like I did pretty well. I got about half of them. I didn't manage to finish the upstairs bathroom, but I did install a drip irrigation system in the front yard. I finished interviewing my grandmother for her life history, but I didn't catch up on printing out my photo-journal. I never transcribed any more songs out of "Ancient Music of Ireland" but I did build another 29 string harp.

I completed both of my writing goals for 2008. I went to the BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop AND I finished my second novel. However, my second novel was NOT the novel that I thought would be my second novel. Irony, irony.

My goals for this year:

  1. Get in the habit of saying a prayer the moment I crawl out of bed
  2. Find someone who wants to visit with the missionaries (anybody out there? Just let me know!)
  1. Toilet train my youngest child (Last one! HOORAY!)
  2. Take a family relationships course with my husband
  1. Finish a third book, start a fourth
  2. Read and review one recently published book every week
  1. Learn to sing full voice in my upper register
  2. Practice the harp - learn some new songs
  1. Do ALL the bathrooms - new tile, new paint, new fixtures
  2. Plant spring, summer, and fall gardens, and keep the plot tidy
  1. Learn to express how I feel before I get so angry I'm about to burst.
  2. Do less and be more