The Staircase and Eliza

Tonight I came across Eliza R. Snow's Nauvoo diary on the internet. One factoid conflicts with the mental construct I had developed:

- Eliza taught school in the upper room of the Red Brick Store from Dec 12, 1842 through Mar 17, 1843 and had perfect attendance. (I knew she was teaching the Smith children during this time, but thought it was in the homestead).

In my (fictional but plausible) construct Eliza was seduced by John C. Bennett before he is kicked out of Nauvoo. Bennett left Nauvoo in mid-May 1842, the last feasible date where he could have "persuaded" Eliza of spiritual wifery. If Eliza became pregnant in May 1842, then she was due or past due on 17 March 1843.

Her perfect attendance at school means she could not have miscarried on February 11, the date she relocated from the Smith homestead to the cabin of Jonathan and Elvira Holmes.

I've also now toured the Smith homestead and the Mansion house. Neither of these two buildings has a staircase that could serve as the fabled location where Emma pushed/dragged Eliza down the steps, causing a miscarriage.

However the Red Brick Store, where class was held, has an ample staircase.

A largely pregnant Eliza could have tripped on her way down the stairs on March 17. Emma was there, Joseph was there. Any number of people could have been present to witness a stumble down those stairs.

Later events conspire to paint Emma in a poor light, but we know Emma and Eliza remained close during their shared time in Nauvoo (Elvira Holmes' stepdaughter tells of Emma and Eliza going about in the evening ministering together circa winter 1844 while Elvira stayed home telling stories to the children who stole cookies from the black cook (Jane Manning)).

The fact of a pregnant Eliza Snow harbored in the Smith home would have spoken volumes to those "in the know" about polygamy. I find it curious that it is presumed without question that Joseph slept with many or even most of the 32 "wives" he ceremonially married in addition to Emma. However there is no DNA evidence that any child begotten to those women is genetically linked to Joseph, despite literalistic interpretations of the oral history.

I am persuaded that Eliza and Emily Patridge "enjoyed" marital privileges with Joseph, and these two were specifically given to Joseph by Emma. Emma was present at the ceremonies, though Emma evicted them from her home three months later.

The other day I realized a possible reason the extremely unhappy Emma would wait three months to evict the girls. After three months she would know whether the Partridge girls' time with Joseph had resulted in pregnancy. When they remained childless three months later, she could kick them out without evicting unborn children.

Emma clearly lied in 1879 when she claimed Joseph never had any other wives. But she may have been confident Joseph didn't engender children by any other woman. The idea that that much-married Joseph could have refrained from "knowing" his wives is a possibility that never occurs to the Mormon "cognoscienti."

The story of Eliza and the staircase isn't so much important because of what it says about Emma. Rather it is important because it is the story that most graphically confirms our certainty that Joseph was as "red blooded" as the practicing polygamists during the Nauvoo era (e.g., Brigham Young) believed him to be.

[Thought about writing up something about this, but BYU Studies requires you have a PhD in the field or be mentored by a PhD in the field. Maybe some other day.]

@polygamy, writing, Nauvoo, midrash


Over the River

Spent Thanksgiving with my married daughter and her husband. It was odd, because that made only six of us in all. Possibly the smallest group I've had for Thanksgiving in forever.

One of our staples is pumpkin pie - has to be home-made. But in our Wednesday evening run to the local Walmart, there was no canned pumpkin except in a shopping cart left in the middle of the aisle. In the end we decided to refrain from raiding the apparently abandoned cart and simply cook the actual pumpkin we had. The pie was good and free of guilt.

Next year we'll strive to time the food so it all arrives at the table at a proper temperature. This time we were just pleased that we had more than enough food and almost all the traditional dishes (with only a few opportunities to clean the floor after a spill).

My son-in-law had to report to his job at Walmart at 0445. I've never participated in Black Friday, so it was fascinating to get his report of how it goes down. First, the parking lot was full when he arrived at 0430, and a driver cut him off. Since the sales didn't officially start until 0500 (with staff on hand to ensure no early runs on product) the store was filled with people just standing and waiting. At the moment shopping could officially start, it was pandemonium. Hot items were gone in under 15 minutes. By 0700 everything had calmed down to normal. They always have police on hand for the inevitable fight. This time it was between two men in the sporting goods section. (Last year it was two women fighting over the last set of pajamas.)

Good times. Good food. Another holiday spent with family. Life is as it should be.


The problem with writing about Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith wasn't just a man. He was a man with thousands of people who counted him a dear friend. And these people either wrote in journals or had children.

It becomes nigh unto impossible to know enough about a milieu that includes Joseph to avoid conflicting viewpoints.

And that is just with the people who love Joseph, whether then or now.

Just imagine the millions who despise or hate Joseph. It's enough to make a writer curl up and want to clean house or pay bills or do any number of productive (or even unproductive) things rather than write.

On the other hand, I am reminded of an experience I had on my mission. I was in Quartu Sant'Elena on the island of Sardinia (Sardegna as I still call it). My companion and I took a break and ducked into the shop of a man we met in the piazza that week.

Our new friend was a jeweler, and that day he was smelting gold. Specifically, he was purifying a bit of gold for a piece.

He started out with a lump that looked perfectly fine. But when the metal liquefied in the crucible, it glowed bright red. I'd seen movies of molten iron, so I didn't realize the red was a sign of impurity until later.

Our jeweler friend the proceeded to drop a pinch of white powder into the molten gold. The liquid gold burned bright and then the jeweler was able to draw off bits of junk. "Impurities," he said in Italian when we asked.

After many repetitions of this process, I was shocked to see a gleam of pure molten gold. No red, no glowing on that small patch. Just pure liquid shimmering gold peeking out from the angry sea of red.

The gold patch grew over time until finally the entire surface was metallic liquid shimmering gold. Now the surface burned red only when the white powder was first cast into the crucible, until eventually even this became the briefest flash of red, localized to the bits of white powder.

This was pure gold.

I feel similarly with respect to the story of Joseph in Nauvoo, specifically the events regarding Joseph and the woman who were his "plural wives."

When I was first introduced to the idea that Joseph had wives other than Emma, it was as though my soul were burned in the crucible. I was angry, untrusting, shaken from my childish certainty. I was fourteen at the time.

I didn't leave the church, but there was a wedge in my heart and mind against Joseph. During those years it was God I trusted, the God who told me to stop kicking against the pricks, who spoke peace to my soul, who assured me my faith was enough.

I was in my late thirties before the gold began to shine for me. My husband was reading the book Mormon America to write a review for Dialogue. As is his habit, he read aloud to me. It was in the course of that process, hearing the words of a non-Mormon try to explain Joseph's theology, that I first understood how much of my worldview was only possible because of Joseph Smith.

But I still didn't like the polygamy thing.

When I first felt the compulsion to write about Joseph and his wife Elvira Cowles, my rationale mind balked. "I like being Mormon!" I cried in my mind. At the time I took it for granted that no good could come of such an endeavor. That was in April 2001.

It's more than eight years later. I have focused persistently, consistently and in some ways obsessively on polygamy. To my surprise, I have discovered a Joseph who desperately loved his wife, Emma. My Joseph did not go behind Emma's back.

And this Joseph, my Joseph, is fully consistent with the extant record.

That is not to say he did not covenant with dozens of woman. But my Joseph did not consummate those marriages with one exception--the two girls who Emma specifically granted to him in May of 1843. The Partridge girls, Emily and Eliza, who Emma promptly turned out of her house.

Every once in a while I learn a new tidbit and I am unsettled. But I have not come across a factoid since August 2008 that has run contrary to my Joseph. This includes the entirety of George D. Smith's book, Nauvoo Polygamy, Todd Compton's more excellent work, In Sacred Loneliness, Richard Bushman's work, Rough Stone Rolling, or even today's challenge: friends who are sure their ancestor was Joseph's love child from a 1832 fling.

All the factoids from which baser Josephs are inferred are consistent with my Joseph.

The problem with writing about Joseph Smith is the sea of facts touching his life. I will not live long enough to understand the entirety of the complex web of human relationship in which he existed. As today, I'm sure the future will bring new information.

That said, I am confident that "my Joseph" will be consistent with the entirety of the data that exists or will emerge.


I love voice recording...

I adore the sound of my husband's voice. It's not just that I love him, though that is true. When I was first dating him, I would save the messages he left and play them over and over again.
"Hi, Meg. Give me a call."
The stars danced. The sun wept.
That was nearing two decades ago, and the magic has mellowed. But my husband loves to read aloud to me and the rest of the family. For example, I have never first encountered Jane Austen in print--she has always entered my soul first through the voice of my husband, reading aloud.
This past year I purchased a decent USB microphone so my husband could record things. Since then I've had fun learning the technology. Here are some of the things I've gleaned:

- Good advice on tools and techniques can be found at librivox.org. Librivox is to audio recordings what Project Gutenberg is to books.
- Librivox recommends the Samson Q1 USB microphone (~$50)
- Librivox also recommends Audacity, free software for editing (producing) your recordings.
- Reduce the "pops" caused when puffs of air impact the microphone diaphragm (when you use plosives, such as ps and bs). You can use a professional pop filter ($20-80); a homemade affair with nylons, wire, and repurposed hoop ($0-10); a pencil attached vertically to the front of the mic (aerodynamic effects divert the abrupt air flow from a plosive); or position the mic off the axis of the direct blast from your mouth.

I'm beginning to dabble in the wide world of voice recording and having a blast.


Personal Progress

On Sunday Beth's Personal Progress leader came by to suggest ways in which the Young Women Personal Progress Achievement Award could be adapted for Beth, since she's autistic. In particular, this earnest leader was suggesting that Beth could maybe earn the award by doing less.

Now the Young Woman Person Progress Award is a big deal for a Mormon girl. It is like the Eagle Scout Award for a boy scout. There are a lot of girls who approach their 19th birthday and realize there aren't quite enough hours in the months or weeks remaining to do enough to complete the award.

As we talked about the "value experiences" and projects, it occurred to us that few of them were outside of Beth's abilities. The main challenge would be keeping up a steady tempo of achievement, getting the experiences done.

The leader mentioned an idea of making a cake or some other treat each month to encourage the girls.

"Beth loves to cook. She could help with that..."

So each month the Personal Progress leader and Beth will make cupcakes for the girls who have finished one of the Value Experiences.

Since Beth also loves computers, I created a blog with all the Value Experiences and Projects needed to earn the Personal Progress Award, along with links to the online scriptures and documents when there are suggested readings.

I earned my Personal Progress Award almost 30 years ago, back when the program was brand new. I'm pretty sure they didn't make me do everything, since it was a new program released when I was very close to leaving for college. Even if I had done everything, I have forgotten a thing or two in the intervening decades. So I look forward to doing these activities myself.

The blog is:



Another Great Weekend I'll Forget Monday

Usually on Monday, someone will ask:

"How was your weekend?"

For some reason, I rarely remember the details of those blissful days away from work. Maybe I'm too compartmentalized. Work is work, and not work is not work.

Or maybe I'm just having so much fun I fail to sleep enough during the weekend, and thus my Monday morning mind cannot comprehend the glory that was my free time.

This weekend was unusual because I knew, going in, that it was overbooked. There was Capclave, the local specfic convention. There was CropWalk, an annual charity fundraiser. It was Ward Temple Day. And we had tickets for the 2009 tour of So You Think You Can Dance in Richmond. That doesn't even count cool things that would be fun, like the fall "Market Fair" at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm or fall activities at the local garden parks and stores. It certainly didn't include any chores.

Luckily or unluckily, water eliminated two of the contenders. A water main 60 feet under the parking lot of the Washington DC temple burst, closing the temple for a week. Rain caused organizers of most outdoor events to either cancel or send letters acknowledging that sane people would be staying home.

So life was only chockablock instead of insanely overwhelming.

My husband and I had dinner with a group of friends from my writer group (Go Codex!) before spending a leisurely evening taking in readings and discussion groups at Capclave. The next day I was back, for another reading, picking up tips on doing podcasts and revisiting the writers' workshop.

Then it was home to fix food (home-made butternut squash soup and egg foo young) before driving to Richmond for the awesome, rocking, 2009 SYTYCD concert. As usual, we stayed after for autographs and were amongst the last to leave. We got to bed by 3 am, honestly...

Sunday was the usual opportunity to worship. Being LDS, our church service lasts 90 minutes, with two other classes that add up to a 3 hour block. But since I have "stuff I have to do" before meetings and choir practice is after church, I was at church for about 5 hours.

After that it was lunch with sandwiches that included home-made sprouts (we all decided we like mung bean sprouts better than alfalfa).

Off to an Eagle Scout court of honor, a church youth discussion with our autistic daughter, a nap, and baking two loaves of homemade bread from fresh-ground whole wheat.

Then at 8pm there was the weekly chatzy with my Mom and sibs, including my brother in Afghanistan (it was 4 am for him). Read a chapter from scripture out loud with my own family, prayed, and then lingered around sharing craft ideas and clips from the web or magazines or books until everyone decided 10:30 was too late to be up before a school night. An hour later my husband gave me a kiss goodnight and went upstairs.

So now it's just me, typing a blog entry, listening to the gurgling of the dishwasher and the hum of the computer, wondering if I'm going to eat yet another slice of fresh, buttered bread before calling it quits and going up to bed myself.

No to the bread, yes to bed, so here's Goodnight!


I'm just a Baby

At least that's what my doctor said when I went in recently.

The context is this: I hurt myself a year and more ago. Significant pain. In fact, it took weeks before it receded enough to realize it was focused on my arm.

In the course of treatment, they prescribed relafen for the pain - kind of a kinder, gentler ibuprofen.

Since then I've had times when I forgot to take the relafen, or ran out, or left it home when going on travel. Most recently I went on travel/vacation for several weeks without meds, and I was an achy, sore, irritable person by the end.

I've been taking the relafen religiously, night and morning, ever since.

I mentioned this to my doctor, and he was shocked. Apparently he never intended for me to take relafen on a long term basis.

"You're young!" he exclaimed. "You're just a baby! Only 46!" He proceeded to explain what long-term use of relafen could do. Oh my.

So I've been avoiding pain meds ever since. The doctor did refer me to Capsaicin cream, a remedy based on red hot chili peppers that works better than placebo and won't destroy my innards.

I guess I'll just have to start actually taking care of myself.


Out of the Blue

Mormons care about family.

It's not just the cuddly kids and parents stuff either (though that is very important). It's tying families together across time and space, in hopes that someday all mankind will have the choice to be linked together.

That's what temples are for.

But for my grandmother and her siblings, that was an impossible dream. Their father, Mormon apostle John Whitaker Taylor, was famously excommunicated back in 1911 (for marrying too many women). Thus he was barred from claiming his wives and children (36 of them) in the eternities.

It has caused untolled sorrow in this group of believing, faithful folks. The later wives, the ones who "caused" the schism between John W. Taylor and the church, wore shame like a brand. They never dared attend the temple together, lest the name Taylor alert suspicion. And yet they deeply loved their husband and refused to permit anything to stand between them and the possibility of eternal reunion with their husband.

Five of the wives were barred by US law from inheriting any of their husband's estate when he died in 1916. Despite the resultant poverty and their large families, each of John's widows received offers of marriage.

If they had remarried, John's children might have come to love a living stepfather. The children might have decided they preferred to be linked eternally to some man other than John.

John's wives never gave their children that possibility. Every one of these six beautiful (and they were beautiful) women went to their graves mourning their decades dead husband, poverty and loneliness notwithstanding.

As recently as 2009 descendants of John Whitaker Taylor and his brides were requesting permission to "seal" the family together, to no avail.

Then, suddenly, almost magically, a change took place. The church-owned database (available via new.familysearch.org to church members) was quietly updated just 100 years after John Whitaker Taylor disobediently married his last wife.

The record now shows John and his wives eternally and uniquely bound together (assuming, as always, that they so choose and God agrees). Not only that, but the sealing dates for two of the wives has been updated to reflect the day on which they were married in 1901, and their children are now shown as "born in the covenant."

All thirty-six are gone now, the last one gone to her grave in 2004. But those who comforted John's children and heard their cries know how much this means.

We who remain are left to contemplate this scripture, given to Joseph Smith in March of 1830, before the Church itself was even founded:

Woes shall go forth, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth...

Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment... that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

Behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.

For the descendants of John Whitaker Taylor the torment of separation is now over. All is knit back together. The family can be at peace.


Being Frugal

I got a call on my cell phone from my married daughter. She knows we can talk for "free" when we use those phones.

We had a good time reconnecting and sharing stories. Then she said,

"Oh. And the reason I called was to tell you we've topped $1000 saved."

She and her husband are married college students, her husband has a job in a deli, and they've been assiduously stashing away money. So for them having a $1000 emergency fund is quite an accomplishment.

While we were talking, I was putting away food I had purchased from Angel Food Ministries. Angel Food is a Christian food ministry, but you don't have to be indigent to take advantage of their food. In fact, each box processed does two things (besides save money for the person buying the food):

1) The charity distributing the food gets $1, which usually goes towards their own food pantry or good works ministry.
2) Any excess food goes to the charity distributing the food.

As it says in their website, "There are no qualifications, minimums, income restrictions, or applications. Everyone is encouraged to participate. Some churches even encourage participants to apply the money they saved to help someone else in need."

Lastly, I checked eBay, and I did win the grain mill I was bidding on for less than 70% of the price of a new grinder. Milling grain means being able to make our own whole grain bread, etc.  Good stuff.  Then again, the true coup goes to my sister, who found a Whisper Mill at a yard sale for $1.  That's less than 0.5% of the retail price, which beats my 70% all hollow.

Now off to reserve hotel rooms for our end-of-summer vacation at hotwire.com...


Thoughts on Marriage

The other night I had the chance to attend one of three lectures about family issues, with the promise of ice cream and cookies afterwards. How could I lose?
The first two rooms I passed were discussing 1) aging parents and 2) how to discipline children. Since my parents are crazy healthy and my remaining children at home are girls, these classes were only of passing interest.
The third class was on Marital Happiness. The lecturer was a Dr. Bowen - a mental health professional.
The first set of statistics was interesting. I'd heard how 50% of marriages end in divorce. But the interesting part was the statistic that 80% of those who remain married are living parallel lives - physically in the same marriage, but not much more. Only 20% of those who remain married (10% of those who marry in the first place) are enjoying thriving relationships.
I left with many handouts and lots of thoughts about how to apply what I'd heard to my own marriage. One book that was mentioned particularly was "And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment." I bought the book on Amazon, and took some time to browse the pages that Amazon lets you view. The core idea is that chastity is great (abstaining from sex outside of marriage) but in the context of marriage sex is not only nice but necessary. Far too many good people, the author contents, fundamentally hurt their marriages either through ignorance of how to sexually fulfill their partner (and receive fulfillment) or are hindered by the idea that sex is nasty and sinful and disgusting. To make matters worse, they perpetuate that ignorance or that prudish worldview in how they teach (or not) their children.
At the same time I've been trying to do research for my novel, in which one character (historical, I didn't just make this up for the fun of it) falls from grace because of his obsession with physical love. In the course of the research came across a variety of websites that I found surprising. There are even more words I will now no longer use because I know their connotation. On the other hand, folks who approach sex unburdened by hang-ups and willing to "improve" their skills in providing pleasure in the pursuit of receiving greater pleasure will reap the blessings, if you will, associated with honoring that aspect of their physical being.
One fun comment Dr. Bowen made was "Sexual intimacy is best after thirty years of marriage." The unspoken qualifier is that it's among those who learn how to become truly intimate, the 10%. And it would not apply to those who constantly seek new partners in pursuit of a hot fling.
Of course, such stuff simply reeks for those who would, themselves, be capable of intimacy, but have either remained single or lost a spouse due to factors beyond their control.
A final note is about what it takes to start of well in marriage. Dr. Bowen asked a volunteer to rank their connection with their loved one based on Physical, Emotional, Social, Intellectual, and Spiritual aspects. On a scale from 0 to 100, the volunteer ranked their relationship as 60, 70, 80, 95, and 90, stating they were 100 as far as commitment to the relationship. Dr. Bowen turned to the board on which these scores had been plotted and drew a line at 80.  "If you are not yet married and have any of these areas that are not at least 80, then don't marry." That was surprising. But on reflection I thought of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," where the heroine, Lizzie, could have married Mr. Collins. It would have been a marriage, but doomed to be one of those "parallel" marriages (as Austen demonstrates when the practical Charlotte does later agree to marry Mr. Collins.
May we all become like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, rather than like Mr. Collins and the hapless Charlotte.


Buying a Used Car

I just bought a new car. New to me, that is.

My husband has a philosophical issue with buying new cars. I think it is bound up with the idea that a car depreciates thousands of dollars the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot. Or maybe he's just allergic to that new car smell.

I thought the $4500 from the "Cash for Clunkers" program would overcome that objection. But it turns out our V8 Cadillac Coupe deVille actually gets 19 mpg and doesn't qualify as a Clunker.

I had resigned myself to driving the Cadillac into the ground when it failed to pass inspection. Twice.

So, how to go about finding a comprehensive listing of used cars?

I ended up going to cars.com and using their Advanced Search function. This lets you search all makes, models, and body styles within range of your zip code (say 30 miles from your zip).  You can specify max price, max mileage, year range, or leave these all blank.

Hit return.

For example, today I find 32 cars priced $1000 or less within 30 miles of my zip code.


When I'm seriously looking for a car, I'll go ahead and purchase access to carfax to find out the history for cars I'm considering based on their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). For less than $40 you can run an unlimited number of carfax searches [see a sample report], which will tell you all the intimate details of accidents, recalls, and odometer readings when the car was registered over it's life.

Most of these have pictures of the cars that you can browse and a VIN number.  If there is no VIN number, there is a phone number (for example, for listings from newspapers). You can call, chat, and get the VIN number from them.

I ended up finding a clean, single-owner minivan with less than 100,000 miles for under $3000. Wow.




Learning to Ping

So I've been using ping.fm to update all my social networks.

Unfortunately, I didn't read the manual... So all the stuff I intended for twitter and Facebook also ended up on my blogs. I should go back and fix that sometime (but not tonight).

I also realized that I was losing the connection with other folks, because while I would get responses to my posts, I wasn't commenting on other people's posts. Made for rather one-sided conversations.

So in a few days I'll look like I always knew what I was doing, with all the untitled status updates removed from my blogs.


My Own Bitter and Sweet

I couldn't help but be glad that Jaime Ford's Japanese Keiko and Chinese Henry fail to find married love in the 1940s.

As a half-white child of the 1960s (back when such things were illegal in many states), I recall the hatred and torment I received from my peers (though my peers never physically beat me). The pain a Chinese-Japanese child would have endured during the 1940s is mind boggling.

Even as late as 1963, my Chinese aunt was driven from her marriage, her church, and her adopted country because of inter-racial hatred (daring, as she had, marry a white man).

My aunt even attempted suicide, as Jaime Ford's characters never do.

But in real life, as in fiction, time heals much.

My aunt and her first husband are remarried Death and time have freed them from pain, bigotry, and the second marriages that followed their 1963 divorce.

They are happy now, and I am glad of it.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - review

The local ladies book club had assigned Kate Atkinson's "Case Histories: A Novel." And I gamely volunteered to lead the discussion.

Alas. We are a group of Mormon ladies. And Kate Atkinson's engaging tale involved quite a bit of sordid gore and guilty sex.

So I suggested a last minute selection switch, recommending Jamie Ford's bestselling "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet."

"Hotel" is the 1942 story of star-crossed lovers who, unfortunately for them, are younger (12) than Romeo and Juliet and not merely from warring families, but warring nations (Keiko is Japanese and Henry is Chinese).

To complicate matters further, Keiko and Henry live in Seattle, a city whose citizens of Japanese origin are about to be rounded up and shipped off to internment camps.
Keiko is a child of American-born parents, making the internment that much more confusing and senseless in the eyes of the reader.

Henry's father wages his own one-man battle against the Japanese - raising money to help the Chinese fight Japan abroad and peddling away local Japanese properties at pennies to the dollar. When he discovers the perfidy of his son (loving a Japanese girl), he disowns the child.

Unlike Romeo and Juliet, no one commits suicide in this tale of forbidden love. And the love is about as innocent as forbidden love gets.

For those of us who lived prior to 1980, however, the tale is clearly fantasy. We remember when marriage between whites and asians was forbidden. The state didn't have to forbid marriage between Japanese and Chinese because the animosity ran too deep, particularly for Chinese children orphaned by Japanese aggression, as was the case for the father of our fictional Henry.

But even though I knew it was impossible for Henry and Keiko to be together, I still wanted to know how he lost Keiko and ended up with the Chinese Ethel. I was surprised how Jaime Ford kept the story and tension going long after Keiko has been taken from Seattle, and how successfully he weaves together the WW II story with the 1986 life of the widowed Henry, searching Japanese artifacts left in the basement of the Panama Hotel hoping to find something Keiko left behind.

My older book group fellows found anachronisms I overlooked (e.g., online support groups in 1986?), but I enjoyed the book.

My only irritation was when Jaime's afterward claimed he was had not imputed his own values to the tale. Alas, I knew I was in the hands of an author who decried the US actions against residents and citizens of Japanese descent and who believes all races are valuable.

So, Jaime, your biases are showing. But they are beautiful biases, so perhaps I shouldn't point them out, lest you hitch them up out of sight.
Donate to Komen, help a good writer (and better man) honor a lost love - http://ping.fm/x0FkR


Facebook urls

You can now get a custom facebook url by clicking on http://ping.fm/RODPn I'm now at http://ping.fm/vbErS


Back on land

On land again after 10 days at sea (without internet or e-mail - horrors). I did get a lot of reading and writing done. Coincidence, surely.


So I'm in this hotel in a foreign country with a spotlight over the bed that looks like a camera. Laser pointer assuaged my fears, but dude-


Found a free way to convert those pesky docx files: www.zamzar.com - zamzar converts lots of stuff, like docs to mp3 format (ala kindle)...


Not enough sleep this past week - my body decided I need to slow down. Good it waited until after my pitch for $2M to help improve sonar...


My daughter just taught me about blackle.com - Think google, but the screen is black (to save energy, don't you know). Cool!


Oops - time to go study how to make ping.fm send my blog posts to my blog and not to twitter and Facebook...

Mother's Day

I know today is the official "Mother's Day," but yesterday was the real treat!

The weather was beautiful, and I ended up spending the day with my daughters (husband man was home resting after minor surgery, alas).

First we went shopping - a fun thing I don't get to do very often with the daughters (the sorrow of being the wage earner in the family).

Next we went to Alexandria to tour the USS Freedom, first of the Littoral Combat Ships. It was a nice show, and my daughters were nicely impressed. They got to sit in the XO's chair on the bridge, and I had to drag at least one of them away from the fun technology toys. They both wanted posters to show their classes.

On the way home, we saw a sign labeled "Mount Vernon." On a whim, we followed the sign and drove down to Washington's estate. To my surprise, the grounds were open. It's been over 15 years since my last visit, and Mount Vernon is more impressive than ever. The weather was lovely, and the baby lambs were gambolling in the fields, having escaped from the fenced paddocks.


In other news, I went "live" with my website redesign: http://megstout.com Come by, visit, and tell me what you think.
So now I can post to my "social network(s)" from Skype. Wild. And my daughter just gave family across the country a video tour of my home.


Being Earth-Wise

Last month I had a chance to tour a friend's garden, and saw his very nice composting setup. He'd acquired 2-3 very nice compost tumblers over the years from neighbors.

Alas, I don't have any neighbors offering such stuff up for free.  Even on eBay the least expensive compost tumbler I could find was well over $100.

A search of the internet provided inspiration. The post How to Start a Compost Bin in the City (with Little Money) sold me.  My 20 gallon Rubbermaid bin cost $12, but I was able to throw in an extra lid (to catch the compost tea) for free.  Five minutes with the drill, and it's done.  The week's paper shreddings and vegetable bits are now happily ensconced there together.

In other news, we will be building a rain barrel later this month.  Then we'll be able to combine water conservation with having 55 gallons on non-potable water in case of an emergency.


Cool Tools

I recently purchased a new-to-me iBook off eBay.  The primary purpose was so I could use Scrivener , a powerful novel-writing program.

My other motivation for buying the iBook was wanting something I could write on comfortably.

I had lots of computer things on which I could type before:

2 desktop computer systems
2 Asus EeePCs (7 inch screens)
3 AlphaSmart Keyboards

I love the little EeePCs, but eventually had to admit that the keyboard is simply too small for me to use comfortably.

I don't mind the desktops too much, but they are fixed in space (and a precious commodity in our home of net-savvy people).

The AlphaSmarts are ultimately portable and battery life is measured in weeks rather than hours - particularly important for really long plane flights.  The keyboard is adequate, but not pleasurable.

I would never have purchased a laptop merely to have a more pleasurable portable keyboard experience.  But since I couldn't have Scrivener on any platform other than a Mac with OS X 10.4 or later, I "needed" a Mac.

This particular Mac is an iBook G3 900 MHz machine with wireless, a 40 GB hard drive, and a 12.1" screen.  It's delightfully intuitive.  Now that I've downloaded Scrivener and the Flip4Mac WMV player, I had everything I need to import my writing and upload my audio files for transcription, as necessary.

I already have been able to import and organize bits and pieces that have languished for months (Sept 2008 and December 2008 for my "Children of Heaven" (COH) and "Pearl of Alba" (POA) novel projects, respectively).

With my POA manuscript, I experimented with dictating scenes, planning to transcribe the audio files and then organize the transcriptions into a first draft.  I found myself with a backlog of audio files to transcribe at the end. Once I had transcribed the files, I had several hundred interspersed snippets of text and that's where I left POA in December 2008.

The tangled mass of snippets that seemed overwhelming without Scrivener now seems entirely manageable and I'm energized to move forward.  Hooray!


Back in the Saddle

In February my buddy, Luc Reid, asked for volunteers with whom he could work on some area where they wished to become more motivated.

I had three areas that came to mind:

1) Writing
2) Physical Health (e.g., diet and exercise)
3) Household Organization

I decided that the first thing I had to knock out was the household organization thing. At the time I started working with Luc, about 50% of my home was effectively unusable because of the "clutter." It has been this way for years. But now, less than a month after Luc started working with me (an hour a week over the phone), I have 90% of my home available to be used as originally designed. The remaining 10% (the erstwhile family room) at least has a clear floor even if it does contain >200 neatly stacked boxes awaiting "defragmentation."

Can I just say now that I am completely amazed that this happened so quickly. I thought it would take months.

[moment of appreciative silence]

So now I have the mental space to turn back to my writing.

I'm in the process of acquiring a Mac iBook so I can run Scrivener. I'll be a proud owner of an iBook on 17 April one way or the other. The cool thing about Scrivener is that it will allow me to work with the bits and pieces I have on my "Queen of Alba" manuscript (QoA has been too daunting to deal with up to now).

However, my first priority is to write my "Children of Heaven" book, which takes place during the last years of Joseph Smith's life, seen from the POV of three people who lived with him. I wrote a draft of this a couple of years ago, back before I knew how to write or half of the historical factoids. That original draft was important and necessary, but the book I will start writing now is as unlike that first draft as a newborn is unlike the blastula from whence it evolved.

Don't need Scrivener to write "Children of Heaven." I just need a healthy dose of "butt in chair."

Yippie Ki Yea!


Smith's "Nauvoo Polygamy"

From frozen milk to something else entirely...

My husband and I sometimes make time to attend a local discussion group, where topics involving Mormonism are aired. The discussions are housed in the Potomac home of a well-to-do individual. It's more like visiting an Italian castle than anything else. And the refreshments are good.

And the company is invariably interesting.

At the end of the month the discussion group will host George D. Smith, who recently published a book titled "Nauvoo Polygamy: '...but we called it celestial marriage'." I note that he is, in fact, both author as well as the founder and current publisher of Signature Books, the imprint bringing out "Nauvoo Polygamy."

I understand George D. Smith is a fascinating person. And since I am highly interested in Nauvoo and the emergence there of polygamy, I decided to buy George Smith's book.

My family was involved in the emergence of Nauvoo polygamy. So one of the first things I did was try to find my people. The first page listed in the index gives a super-brief summary. The second page has nothing at all to do with my family member.


I will be reading the book, but I've already noticed several instances where the author's choice of words or characterization is like fingernails on a chalkboard to this reader.

I expect George Smith is more personable in the flesh.

If you want a review of the book and don't want to wait for me to read it, my husband found a review here: http://is.gd/fMGE.


Freezing Costco Milk

If you shop at Costco, you've noticed that the milk cartons are very unique - more rectangular than the normal jugs in the regular supermarkets.

So I got thinking there must be a good reason for that.

It would be sufficient reason if they were able to reduce the packaging for themselves. Maybe the new carton means they don't have to have those big plastic crates (the ones we used to seek out back during college - they made great furniture for the truly penny-pinching). That would be sufficient reason, but of no use to me.

On the other hand, the new carton might be good for freezing milk. But I didn't know if freezing milk is "done." Turns out it is possible, best done with skim milk, and it changes the mouth feel enough that you'll never find the dairy council recommending the practice.

But I'm just a busy mother with kids who want their milk. If having a frozen gallon or so around between shopping trips lets me buy all my milk at Costco (less than $3/gallon), that would beat the $4/gallon we are currently paying at the local grocery.

So I did the experiment. Milk expands when frozen, but the Costco cartons are thick-walled and have bunches of "grooves" in the side which allow for expansion. Plus the more columnar form of the carton means the milk can expand upwards without being forced into a bottle neck. In all, it worked pretty well.

The milk took a while to thaw. The milk ice is much more ice than milk. We started drinking milk before the ice had thawed, and that milk tasted like powdered milk. But when we let the entire gallon thaw, it tasted normal enough.

So - freezing milk is a bit of a hassle. But for our family, it is sufficiently acceptable given the $ savings.


The Freedom of Freecycling

I have to admit it. I have an addictive personality.

No, not that you are addicted to my personality, rather that I find it very easy to get addi... absorbed in things.

So this freecycle thing. I suppose it could be considered my latest addiction. But it's a good addiction.

I don't need the stuff filling boxes and crevices throughout my home. It's like the material equivalent of fatty deposits over muscles or lining the walls of blood vessels. It looks gross and inhibits my ability to do everything I might wish. For those who've encountered the Flylady crowd, they refer to it as CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome).

Each day in 2009 I've found something I don't want to keep around, for whatever reason. I list it on the Freecycle page. Usually by the end of the 24 hours I have not just one person who wants my discard, but many people. I don't have to do much, just bag it, label it, and place it near the door. The stuff flies out of the house. I feel like I'm making people happy, and I'm happy because that stuff clearly had value to someone. I wasn't *crazy* to keep it around all that time. Silly, perhaps, but not crazy.

Others in the family are catching the "don't have to hoard it" fever. My married daughter tells me she started a freecycle group in her town. My younger kids help me search for freecycle fodder, or have offered up their stuff.

So today I come home and ask out loud what I should freecycle today.

"Dad says to freecycle the rollerblades."

This is my husband who still has boxes of mag tapes from the 1980s.

Oh. My. Goodness. There is hope yet.


Happy 2009!

It's a new year - arbitrary as that is. Still it's a chance to make a break with the past and start new - like the cleansing baptism or communion serve in some communities. Rather than tell you the myriad things I hope to do, I'll focus on one area:


Here are a couple of ways I'm explicitly going to go (or stay) green.

Recycling.  We are lucky to have places nearby where we can recycle paper, plastic, glass, metal, electronics, and plastic bags.  This almost doesn't count as a new thing, because we're pretty well set up to do these things now.

Freecycling.  Again, we're lucky.  I don't know if this is an option everywhere, but in our area there is an active freecycle group. Last year I mostly remember the cool stuff we got - a futon mattress and frame, a dresser, a refrigerator.  In the past month, though, I've started offering stuff up for freecycle - a loft bed, a violin, electronics. My 2009 goal is to offer up at least one thing per day (on average).  I have boxes and boxes of stuff I keep telling myself I should go through.  For years.  But in my quest to find something else fresh and desirable, I expect to see those boxes dwindle appreciably over the coming year.  It would be so nice to be able to actually use the space I own.  I'll also get a better sense of what is actually desirable - I mean, if people don't even want it for free, is it worth keeping/donating?

E-gifting.  In past we've received large boxes at Christmas time, but no more.  This year the gifts we received were modest in size if mailed.  In a couple of cases the gifts were hand delivered. Exchanging gift cards?  You may say, "What's the point?"  I find that knowing we have a gift card or check frees me to get a thing I really want, a thing I wouldn't get if it were just me and my own funds.  I figure I'm freeing the recipient from having to exchange items.  And if I give a particularly fungible giftcard, they can use it for necessities, if that is really their greatest need. Besides, I've found that's an easy way to help out folks when I become aware of a need.  Someone's computer blows up with all their files, someone is in danger of being evicted.  I give generously through official channels at work and church, but there are times when you just want to help a particular individual who is down and out.  E-gifting lets me do that and extends the potential scope of friends I can help across the globe.

Fight the "Bigger, Better" temptation.  I already live in a town home within walking distance of school and (in a stretch) church, and shopping.  It's a modest commute from work, which I can do by public transit when not required to drive myself.  So I'll remind myself that is good.  No salivating over lovely single-family homes that would increase my commute and require that we use a car to do anything and everything. Beyond that there are the decisions about what to do with the home we have.  There's a line between necessarily maintenance and "but I *want* a new floor, redesigned fixtures, the thing that will make my house look like that magazine ad."  I can embrace the value of 'neat,' 'clean,' 'well-maintained' as sufficient, rather than feeling deprived because I can't gut and trash everything and start fresh. Feel free to tell me other things I should be doing, or that you're doing!