Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spiderweb and Path (near our house)

I DO understand that some people prefer deserts, such as the one I was born in and mostly raised in. I'm actually pretty happy about that fact, because it means that not everyone gets crowded into the places with trees..

These are from a couple of months ago; I just now got around to downloading them. (But it was worth the wait, right?)

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Story from Papa

"I don't even remember what class it was, but I remember the teacher had left. And [another kid, a boy] was kicking and picking on this girl. She was kind of retarded, and certainly not pretty-- certainly the opposite of pretty, I guess, pretty much-- and had always been kind of a despised one. And right now, my time traveling Walter Mitty [daydream] is that I go back and stand up to him. And my guess is that probably if I had hauled off and hit him one, he was into fighting enough that he would have pounded me into a pulp. Which is probably why I was too afraid to fight him then. And it probably wouldn't have hurt that much-- but I was afraid. Maybe if I'd just said something, I'm certain most of the class-- and frankly, especially the pretty girls-- would have been immediately on my side and I would have been much more impressive to them. But instead, I sat like everybody else, and said nothing. And as I think about it, maybe that's part of why I think of all of these issues of our modern society, being afraid of other people is not a good trait. Right is right."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kitchen Failure at Elijah Kitchen

Erm. A couple of sisters and I decided-- back in March? I think?-- to start a food blog. And we finally got tired of waiting, so it went live on Thanksgiving Day, but I am such a slacker that you didn't find out about it until today.

But! Probably one of the funniest essays I have written in my life goes live today. So.. if you are interested in reading about Kitchen Failure.. go ahead and click through.

Oh. The blog's name is Elijah Kitchen. You know, like the Elijah plate at passover, the extra one you set just in case a miraculous (or even non-miraculous) extra guest happens by? Only, you know, instead of a plate, it's the whole kitchen. We explain it better in the first post, maybe-- you can read about it on the blog.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Which Cornelia Solves a Logistical Problem For Herself

YOU know how it is, dear reader. You get nominated as tooth fairy. You accept with as much grace as you can muster. You slowly collect your costume: orange slippers (at the request of one of your fairy-ees); one sparkly green and one fancy blue dress (you let the loser-of-the-tooth decide which one you are going to wear when you come over for a sleepover); a wand (gift from a niece who feels that you CANNOT be a proper fairy without a wand); and a light-up tiara (from a roommate who is certain that you have better use for it than she does).

At said sleepover, you exchange gold (= sacajawea dollars) for teeth beneath the pillow of an only nominally asleep child (I decided shortly after starting this job that letting them be awake but making them pretend to be asleep is the most fun, and if you aren't in Tooth Fairying for the fun, I can tell you the teeth just don't-- ahem-- cut it, as far as pay is concerned).

Then, you move away, so that these sorts of sleepovers are no longer possible, but you do what you can: you encourage the neeflings to mail the teeth to you, promising that you will get you them dollars when you can. But here's the problem: I am a forgetful woman, and teeth are not exactly flat-- they are not easy to file or, in short, to keep track of. I found one just the other day that Papa had brought back from his last trip to Utah, and I realized how badly I am falling behind in my duties. I'm really not sure how many dollars I owe to whom; also, I'm not completely sure which of the teeth in my possession have already been paid for

But I came up with a solution: Tooth Receipts. Mailed as postcards.

 I reprinted  the back side  with our "blog names" so that my general readership could see the wording  there, too.

I mailed the first one today. It made me pretty darn happy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love

You are going to laugh at this (or, if you aren't, you should) but Jane and I had "crashed" a funeral just a couple of months before Jane's unexpected death. My reasoning went something like this: Mormon churches, like churches of many other faiths, are basically open to the general public, for whatever functions may be held there. (This would be "church" as in where we meet to worship on the Sabbath, as distinct from "the temple," which is not even open on the Sabbath.) And I was going anyway-- I knew the husband of the woman who had died well enough to feel like I ought to attend the funeral no matter what, so this was really just a matter of whether or not to bring Jane with. And I knew that a good Mormon funeral is actually a great way to get a feel for the best bits of Mormon family life, and I wanted very much for Jane to get that feel-- I felt like she would learn things from attending that funeral that she wouldn't be able to get in any other way.

It turned out that I was right. The funeral WAS wonderful-- I nearly blogged about it as "the best funeral I have ever attended," but I wanted to respect the privacy of the family, and decided against it. I will say this much: it was the funeral of a woman who had lived approximately twenty years beyond expectation: she had been diagnosed with a disease, shortly after the birth of her first (and, as it happened, only) child, and she had been told that the disease could take her life within that year. But it did not. Though she was not able to have more children, and from that time forward lived in nearly constant, severe pain, she was able to live long enough to raise her son, see him graduate from high school, and send him on a mission. He was not at the funeral-- he was in his assigned field of labor-- but as it happened, the assigned field of labor was very close to his mother's ancestral home (where she was buried), and he received special permission to go to her grave site and be the one to dedicate the grave.

And the words spoken at her funeral! Her mother spoke-- she spoke too long, and had to be asked to sit down, but it turned out OK. Her sister spoke, describing a sister-mother who had sacrificed much for her. Her husband spoke, and this was one of the most moving talks I have ever been witness to. He quoted poetry, first in German and then in English, and he wept as he described how their "dream deferred" of having a large family had caused a sadness between them-- but how in the end they decided (somehow-- I'm describing this badly) to let the sadness go, and let hope flare up again.

The funeral went a little long, and as I drove her home, Jane was on the phone with a friend of hers whose daughter was having difficulty, and whom Jane was trying to help out. She was still on the phone as she was getting out of the car. I asked: how was it? She told her friend on the phone to wait a minute as she talked to me. "I want a man who loves me like that," she said. I agreed, and agree.

There is a part of me that wants to shout: But what happened? The man who killed you-- why did you let him back into your house, into your life? Why didn't you tell me you had a restraining order against him, way back last spring when you first mentioned him to me? Was it too embarrassing? Was I-- was my manner such that you just couldn't, that I was judgmental, that I'm just not a person who can handle that information? Dear God, O God, how I wish I could turn back time and look into your eyes again and say one more time: you are worth being treated well. You are worthy of love, even unemployed, even dark-black as you sometimes thought so poorly of yourself for being, even with imperfect children and an imperfect church attendance record and with so many people surrounding you who questioned your every decision.

Oh, how I miss you. I have been buoyed up by the love of God in a remarkable way which is far above and beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life before, and I know that it has been in direct response to my need for comfort over your death-- but, beloved sister, I wish every day, EVERY DAY, that you were not dead. I miss you terribly. The girls miss you terribly. Your baby-- I pray for all of your family, but I pray especially for him. No seven-year-old should have to bear the burdens he is compelled to bear. And when I keep thinking in a loop about how I wish I could do over-- wish I could persuade more persuasively, ask peskier questions, something-- the one thing I never regret is listening to every inclination to be friends with you. What a comfort you were to me, what a true friend.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Setting for the Eulogy, Part the First

Miss Ruby said it best, and she said something like this: "I don't want to be racist or anything, but I'm going to say it how it was. All of us-- all of Jane's friends and family who were at the funeral-- we're black. And it's at this white [as in the race of the majority of the congregation is white] church, and we're thinking: can they deliver like we're used to being delivered to [in, say, a Black church]?"

I felt that. I was aware that the congregation was going to be mostly black, and I think that I was a little less shocked than, say, Bishop Smith, at how large that congregation was; I had been a regular visitor at Jane's house and had seen first hand how many people besides me loved to be near her. The ward had run off 150 programs on the nice, colored paper; then, when they saw so many people there, 75 more on the black-and-white copier available at the church. By the bishop's estimation, there were about three hundred people in attendance. The members of the ward who came sat mostly in the seats in the back section of the chapel; the front of the chapel was full of black, black, wherever the eye turned, and-- as Miss Ruby so candidly put it-- they were wondering (as was I, quite frankly) if the funeral speakers could "deliver".

There were a few things on my side. First and foremost is my love for Jane, my feeling I've had since I first began visiting her that she is truly my sister, that it is a privilege to have known her. Also, there is the fact that absolutely everyone in that congregation was praying for me, as were more people than I've ever been aware of before, in other locations. It didn't hurt at all that, for me, black people I don't know are much safer, emotionally, than white people I don't know; this is residual from my having attended Jr. High in Alabama, where the black kids were just much, much kinder to me than were the white kids, on average. Then there is the fact that somehow, the way I get nervous when I'm speaking sometimes comes across as being confident and collected to the people I am addressing, whether that is at an oral linguistics final or giving a talk at a Black Mormon Funeral.

Most of all, it is my opinion that it was simply the will of God for it to go well. When Miss Ruby started out by saying that they weren't sure if we could deliver, I said, "I was worried..." and she interrupted: "But you showed us you didn't have to deliver how we are used to. You captured her essence-- it was just so beautiful."

"Well, I prayed," I said, "and I think that God helped me."

"God was with you."

Which was a beautiful compliment, and symbolic of how I've taken all of the compliments (of which there have been many) so far: they are a validation, not that I of myself did such a great job, but that I was able to follow the Holy Ghost and do what was expected of me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Papa is now contributing photos to the blog, thus:

In the spring, Papa tried to run the squirrels off from eating the birdseed which he puts out on the balcony for-- er-- the birds-- but once he realized that he could get good shots of the squirrels from the other side of the patio-door (which looks on to the balcony) he forgave them and let them eat in peace.

I wondered, at first, why the squirrel-on-the-seat picture came first, but then I realized that this is a very ground-centric view; of course the squirrel landed on the seat before it landed on anything else.

This is the same bike which has been on the balcony since last winter.

I wasn't going to include this one, but Mom liked it so much that I decided to post it anyway.

The plant which our visitor is exploring in this photo is my lovely basil which Papa rooted from some we got last winter.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In which Cornelia slowly begins to live again

I have chosen a pseudonym for my friend who just died: she shall be called Jane. After, in part, Jane Manning James, but also because it rhymes with the name she had chosen for herself to be called, since she disliked the very old-fashioned one her mother had chosen for her.

It occurs to me that I've set a precedent before now of calling the dead by their own real names, under the theory that really nothing worse can happen to them at this point; but, a) my brain still can't quite process the fact that she's dead; and, b) there has been enough internet-searchable local news coverage of her death that it would definitely break any sort of anonymity I have remaining on this blog to not give her a pseudonym.

This is what I need to tell you: there had been a part of my soul which had slowly been dying of bitterness. It felt like I had been to so many funerals, and I was tired of it, and tired of being poor and having nothing even remotely resembling a decent career and not having a husband and blah blah blah. But: my soul is reviving again, and this fact is directly related to Jane's death.

I will try to explain.

It is true that my day-to-day emotional resilience is at low ebb; that, on a regular basis, I find myself crying for no particularly good reason, and that my back (which is highly responsive to my emotional state) isn't doing as well as it sometimes has.  But it is also true that somehow this death, which is taking up elephant-sized space in my emotional living room, has at least temporarily sloshed out any capacity I used to have for grudge-holding or bitterness or resentment. I cry because my feelings are hurt on the kind of regular basis I haven't experienced since I was a teenager (or younger?), but when I am done crying, I have no energy left to dislike the hurter.

Is it bad for good to come of evil? But I think it cannot be. I do not plan, would never plan-- or, in other words, wish for-- evil as dark and loathsome as this. And I say most emphatically that God does not, could not do such a thing either. But I am sure as the day is long that God has planned for evil, for this particular evil especially, and I am everlastingly grateful to Him for that. Strange? To me strange. But still true.

I will try to write up the eulogy I gave, very soon.

Could I audit?

Some situations are on the more extreme end of unlikely to occur in my life. Such as my becoming a first lady of an African country (or even  becoming a chief-of-staff for one). But wouldn't it be cool to sit in on a class being run for them?

First ladies of Africa take page out of US book

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pictures taken in the early(ish) morning, when the mosquitoes are out

I think I fed at least ten mosquitoes from this photo-run. Either that, or I was so delicious that some of them kept coming back for more.

The above is the sidewalk one walks down as one is going towards the library.

An this is along one of the paths behind the house. I finally got the flash to shut up when I figured out to use the "landscape" setting. The only problem with that is that my camera then wanted me to have a tripod. I compromised by steadying it on my knee or a nearby tree (don't remember which, for this shot). But-- isn't it lovely? Even if it is shakier than it would be if I'd had a tripod?

As I came up the rise and saw this view, I thought: this lamppost looks triumphant. Now why is that? And then I realized: it's because it is bathed in the glory of the rising sun, whilst all around it has yet to feel its rays.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I've had several people reassure me that I was a good influence in my friend's life, which is not at all bad, but at the same time, I want to cry out: "But she was a good influence in mine!"

I realized yesterday-- or perhaps it was the day before; my time sense has gone funny-- that I have a dual problem at the moment. Firstly, I have a friend who died in a violent way. And, secondly, the friend whom I would have visited with to debrief, the woman at whose kitchen table I would have sat and on whose shoulder I would have cried, whose fridge I would have raided and whom I would have asked for, and from whom I would have received, many, many hugs, is gone. She is not my Very Best Friend Of All time, and I really don't think she would have characterized me that way for her, either-- but she was like a sister to me, and in that way a wonderful, wonderful influence on my life. There is a part of my brain which does not comprehend the fact of her gone-ness yet, which refuses to believe. Yet surely there is a part of me which does understand, because I have cried some part of every day since Tuesday, and I spent basically all of Wednesday and Thursday moving at something like 1/4 speed and feeling really tired and numb. Numb, that is, except for the upset and anguish which was so huge that it got through anyway.

And now I am (mostly) back. I am determined to work as much as I can; I think that both body and soul heal better and more quickly when they are given the opportunity to work, so work is what I seek. Good work, that is to say; work which feels genuinely helpful to others. Curiously, one of the kindest things anyone has done for me so far was to call me up and ask if I could come over and help clean her children's rooms. She and I already have a warm relationship; I already hold her baby during the third hour of church sometimes. What this means is that it was very easy for me to pop on over, help the boy-child with room-cleaning, hold the baby to prevent Lego-consumption, and then believe her when she told me that I had been helpful that day.

And, just in case I haven't said it recently enough, to my family, to my friends: I love you. I am thankful to you. That last post-- if it hurts you in any way, just don't read it. I am surrounded by love, and I become more and more aware of this fact all the time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

In praise of the not-completely-natural reaction to bad news

I also started this blog so that I could say the things I felt like saying, but which I didn't want to inflict on particular people without their permission. The thing is, a blog does not HAVE to be read. Which is my way of apologizing if the following post seems out of character or upsetting to you.

So. Without further ado.

I have a close friend who was killed on Tuesday. The police are charging a man (whom I have met, though only briefly) with her death. I do not feel at all like discussing the details, but I don't mind everyone else's knowing them. If you want to know what happened, email or call me and I'll tell you my friend's name so that you can find what you can on your own.

I apologize for grieving you. I do not-- I cannot-- I am trying very hard not to focus on the violence inherent in this situation, but almost every time I tell someone else, I get this very natural response of shock and horror, and I have to say that I have gotten very much more firmly on the side of Miss Manners and King Benjamin: a natural response is not the best.

What do these natural responses sound like? "Oh, my GOSH! HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?!" and "Are you sure it wasn't accidental?" (Yes, I am, and I'm also really sure that I don't want to explain why. I wasn't there, but I've heard enough of the police report to know that they have good reason to have that man in custody.) Also on my least-favorite list: "How are you? Are you OK?" I know I've said this one myself-- I've probably said all of these myself, and it isn't like I'm mad at the people who say these things, but it is true at the same time that I am discovering that they just aren't the greatest things to say.

Anyway, the problem with asking if someone is OK is that there does not exist a good answer to this question. For something this horrible, you can just assume that the answer is no: no, she probably isn't OK. It also doesn't really help her be more OK to keep having to figure out how to state her mental/emotional condition without overwhelming her listener (and possibly provoking more shouting, which was painful enough the first time around) while still being even remotely accurate. I have figured this one out, though: for a couple of days, I said either "I am sad,." or "I feel very sad," and now I'm saying "I'm OK," which is true at the moment.

And not-natural reactions? They are the ones where my interlocutor gently says something along the lines of, "Oh, I'm so very sorry." "Please tell me if I can do anything for you." "Call me if you need to talk." Or (only if it's accurate), "I had something like that happen to me once."

Monday, September 6, 2010

If You are Good

My calling in church right now is to be a ward missionary. Yesterday, what that meant is that I went to the home of a newly baptized member to help her learn more about our church.

We were teaching this young woman about, among other things, temple marriage. The gist of this part of the lesson is: temple marriage is a good thing, and you should do what you can to be married in the temple when that time comes. Then the woman who was helping me teach said something like, "If you are good, God will give you a husband so that you can be married in the temple."

The kind of funny(/horrible/deeply hilarious) thing about this is that I had written, not two nights earlier, about how tempting it is to wonder if I have somehow invisibly offended God (meaning, an offense invisible to me), and that THAT is why I am husband-less. On most days, and even most nights, I know that this must not be true, but it is easy on dark nights after lonely days to slip into the temptation of believing such a thing.

And yes: I did jump in almost before she had finished the sentence, correcting her. I explained that I had had chances to marry, outside of the temple, but I had chosen not to take them. I said that it is still worth it to wait, unmarried and faithful-- to me it is worth it. And afterward, outside, my teaching companion apologized for having been thoughtless.

I am still thinking about this. I do not depend on God in the way I would expect to depend on, say, a decent car. Or, worse, a slot machine with much-better-than-average odds. To me-- and here, I speak very personally-- God is a person, not a machine.  God is, furthermore, a person I trust. I will certainly mess up, because I am a person, and people do that; but the God whom I worship is always willing to forgive when I genuinely ask forgiveness. People-- good people, trustworthy people-- do give forgiveness when it is genuinely sought, and do not arbitrarily withhold good things from others because they are invisibly offended.

I believe that if some part of the "if you're good, then good things will happen to you" equation appears to be unfulfilled, it isn't because God is undependable, but because not enough time has passed. I also believe in the power of God to transform not only death to life, but suffering to empathy; and when one is in the midst of a life-long project to become like an infinitely loving and compassionate God, this looks like a very good deal indeed.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Still catching up: a little from the family reunion in New Hampshire

for my mother's side of the family.
On the right: Susie (Mom's/Nana's first cousin, so my first cousin once removed); on the left is her husband, Frank. Both are black powder rifle champions, and both are retired teachers. Susie said that at one of the black powder rifle championships, someone asked her what her profession in "real life" was. She said, "Oh, I'm a home ec. teacher". Her competitor looked surprised. "Well, what'd you expect a home ec. teacher to look like?" Susie asked, because clearly, what one actually looks like is: this. (Yes, I'm sensing a theme with the last two posts, too.)

Both are lovely people. They let me sleep in their very comfy camper-trailer, the night before the reunion-proper started.

This is what the tent/pavilion for the reunion looked like, the night before. Um, with some background, because with a background like that it would be practically criminal to leave it out. I have to say, the scenery in New Hampshire was SPECTACULAR. I would go every summer, if I could, but they only hold the reunion every three years (I think?) and at any rate they don't hold it in the same place every time.

And this is how they got the Official Photographer high enough to get everyone in her viewfinder for the BIG family photo. She covered her eyes on the way down. Heights, evidently, scare her.

Monday, August 23, 2010

So, Mom was the one who told us about how she kept getting thanked for the flower arrangements that Papa had done. Papa is the one who has told the following story several times in my hearing:

When my mother (Nana to the neeflings) first got hired at BYU, she and Papa were invited to a New Faculty and Spouses breakfast, held at what was then the president's residence-- not the White House, but the residence of the president of BYU. This building is a sort of half-timbered-look building on the eastern edge of Maser Hill where, at the time, Jeffrey R. Holland and his wife lived.

One of the male attendees at the breakfast asked my father, "So, what do you teach?"

"Oh, no, it's not me. My wife is teaching in the Math department."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Papa, with flowers

Seeing as how they owned a flower shop for ten years, it isn't that surprising that my parents were asked to do floral arrangements to sit at the front of the chapel during our most recent Stake Conference. Mom was feeling sort of migrane-y when the day arrived to actually put the arrangements together, so she asked Dad to do them-- and he happily obliged. He enjoys flower arranging.

Very promptly (less than a week) after the conference, a note arrived from our new stake president, thanking Mom for doing the flowers. The following Sunday, someone else thanked her again. We keep meaning to tell them who it really was, but we're all a bit forgetful, so it hasn't happened yet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hooray for technology!

Ivy started it, but I've finally followed her example: I read aloud to the neeflings over the phone-- either books checked out of the library or ones from our own collections. I know it sounds silly that I hadn't thought of this solution before, but I have to say that it is much less exhausting to read someone else's story aloud than to be making up your own all the time. (Also, beyond that, there's this sort of happiness that comes from making a kid happy, and this is one of the most easily accessible ways for me to get to that.)

The story I'm reading at any given time may be truly age-appropriate for only one kid (sometimes two), but frequently several of them will listen in, via speakerphone. I hadn't realized quite how popular this was until the other day when I called to read to Sroon, and his younger brother Quarto shouted, "SPEAK-er-phoooooone!" with the last part getting more faint as he ran off to the bedroom to tell the others what was about to commence.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I am trying to catch up with myself. I suppose that this means that I should post more.

Assateague is a barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, just a few miles south of the ever-crowded-and-commercial Ocean City. We visited just before school let out, and it was very, very lovely (and sparse enough to be fun).

Yes, it's true that it's just a beach; but it is also true that this was my first true view of the Atlantic Ocean, and it was QUITE exciting to me.

All three of my pictures are from rather late in the day. I guess that this could be explained by the fact that we didn't get out the door until ten or so, and didn't get there until after noon, and didn't actually get to the beach until around five. That is, indeed, Papa; neither he nor Mom went swimming that day, but I had a nice dip in the Atlantic, and did a bit of shell collecting to boot. Papa just collected pictures with his camera (there were dolphins! If only one of us had had a telephoto lens and a tripod...) and Mom collected the sun's rays and chapters from the book she was reading.

While we were driving, Mom mentioned that they usually go to a beach in Delaware. I said that it was fine with me if we went to Delaware; I just wanted to go to the ocean. But she kept driving towards Assateague. Finally, she explained that she wanted to see the horses on Assateague. Ah-hah! And we saw some, literally as we were driving away. I got two shots (Mom asked me to); I chose to post the one I thought was more interesting.

One Friday morning a couple of months ago, my mother knocked on my bedroom door and said, "How would you like to go to Assateague today?" I promptly agreed. We had planned-- sort-of planned-- to go to Assateague a month before that but were waylaid by medical problems on Mom's part. I have to say that this experience is the only time in my entire life that I remember my mother spontaneously deciding to take a trip. (No vacation with Mom would be a vacation with Mom without her spontaneously deciding to change plans mid-stream; but actually deciding to go and then leaving the same morning is unheard-of, in my experience with her.)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Forgetting isn't everything

Stuff I've managed to forget/misplace, which affected me today:
  • my regular ring of keys
  • the spare car key
  • the other spare car key
  • the time of C and B's wedding
  • the key to my (usual, permanent) locker at the temple
  • because of the above, my name tag which identifies me as a worker at the temple
  • that it is a good idea to wear, ahem, *appropriately-colored undergarments when one is attending the temple
  • the time that prayer meeting for my shift starts
  • my little hand-sewing project which I thought I had packed just in case I ended up waiting around for a while, for a ride

Stuff I've managed to do anyway:
  • Talk my astonishingly patient mother into both dropping me off and picking me up
  • Borrow needed items of clothing 
  • Get a temporary name tag, and 
  • Just get a locker in the regular locker room instead of the worker room
  • Be on time to the aforementioned wedding (I was two hours early; whew!)
  • Help out the swamped, morning shift of the temple staff, because I happened to have an hour to kill, because I was two hours early to a wedding being held there
  • Let my shift supervisor know that I'd be missing the prayer meeting because of said wedding (I was there early! so I left a note)
  • Be practically on time to start working on my shift
  • Be a patron at the temple; I skipped being a patron early in the day because they needed me as a worker, but at the end of my own shift it was very, very quiet, so (with permission) I left my post and went up to another very, very quiet office where they were most happy to have me as a patron in the hour before my mother was able to pick me up
  • Find the second spare car key! Now if only my memory would show up as well...
*Just in case you didn't know: one walks into the temple in "street clothes," which means Sunday Best. Once inside, one enters a locker room (with individual booths for privacy when changing) and switches to "temple whites," which, as the name indicates, are all white. Since white doesn't tend to be terribly opaque, if one happens to be forgetful about what color of under-layers one has worn, it WILL show through.

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Note to Self: Remember Eisenhower's Advice

    This is from a letter written to Lucius Clay, who at the time (1947) was the military governor for Germany. He tried to resign his post (officially) at least eleven times; unofficially, the count was even higher. Eisenhower had been his good friend for a long time, and in this letter, he was trying to talk him out of one of the threatened resignations. I found it quoted in The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour, by Andrei Cherny.
    "...please remember that now abide Faith, Hope, and Charity, these three, and greater than any is a sense of humor."

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Turtles, Ducks and a Heron

    From that one day a couple of months ago when I was so trigger-happy with my camera. But it was really cool-looking!

    There were more turtles out than I have ever seen at the same time, before or since, and it seemed like they were all sunning themselves.

    These were sitting on the tubing which is somehow connected to the dredging of the lake-- a LOT of turtles were on the tubing that day.

    The ducks and the turtles didn't seem to mind each other much.

    And this is as close as I could get to the heron I saw.  I was afraid you wouldn't be able to see it at all, but this picture came out OK.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010


    I started this blog for a couple of reasons. For one, I had dreams of Becoming A Writer, and I figured that if I had a(n at least nominally) public forum in which I expected myself to express ideas in a comprehensible format on a regular basis, then I would be forced to work on my writing on an equally regular basis. I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of writer I wanted to be, so the first blog descriptor lines that I used (“whatever I feel like writing at the time”) made perfect sense.

    And yet, there was a further sense of purpose, even from the beginning. My first posting was about the death of one of my uncles, and how I mourned not just his passing but the passing of my chance to become closer to a man who had taken it upon himself to connect me more firmly to an extended family which—reflecting the attitudes of my own parents—wasn’t quite sure what to do with its first old maid in a generation. I wanted to express, even though in most senses it was too late, my appreciation for his making me feel even a little more at home with my family. As I continued to write, I found myself gravitating to subjects which help me figure out how to make myself feel at home even in the unexpected--you may laugh, and I actually don't mind, but it's still true-- as I say, the unexpected circumstance of being a grownup who needs a home, but who has neither of the most usual prerequisites in my home culture: a husband or a house of my own.

    I come from quite the line of wanderers; I feel a keen wanderlust myself; and yet I feel equally a keen pang of longing for a true sense of home, which in some ways I have assuaged by blogging about what I think a Proper Home could and/or should be like. And realizing that I was doing this is partly what led me to my current blog descriptor, which (to finally answer N’s question) comes from the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, and is one of my favorite scriptures ever.

    [And I would love to blog about being an Incredibly Mormon (not to mention More Than Faintly Victorian) person and living in a larger society which "gets" me, in some ways, better than my Mormon subculture does, but that will have to wait.  This posting that you're reading right now, since I promised it in the last posting, caused a long-ish, unplanned pause in my blogging, which I do not wish to repeat.]

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    And this is why Cornelia Philosophene

    I wrote this in an email to a friend a while back, and I kept meaning to post something similar here; I've finally just taken the cheat-y way and cut-and-pasted from that email. I have made (as usual) slight editorial revisions. I named my blog after my email address-- despite the fact that it's dastardly difficult to spell, I do still love my email address-- but, as you shall see in my next post (chronologically), it turned out to be a good name for the blog in and of itself.

    Your last question is the easiest to answer, as well as the longest. The first part of my email address came from a First Presidency Message that President Hinkley wrote in the December 2007 Ensign. I double checked it before I actually used the name, because I didn't want to be wrong and be all embarrassed and be stuck with a weird email address that I would have to start explaining by saying that I had been mistaken.

    Anyway, in the article, he told a story about these Roman ladies who got to talking and decided to pull out their jewels to show off to each other, and they asked their friend, Cornelia, where her jewels were, and she called in her two sons and said they were her jewels. And then they grew up to be famous and good, or something like that.

    I liked the story so much that I thought it would be great to name a kid Cornelia, (mmm... or something...), but never knowing if/when I would have kids, and also knowing that whoever I married might want a say in what we named our kids, I decided to go for it for the email address. I was completely sure that any variation of my actual first, middle, and last names was going to be very crowded in the email address market, and I really didn't want any numbers in my address.

    Also, there's a small reference to a character in one of the Anne of Green Gables books; the lady is Cornelia Bryant, and she's this super opinionated, very kind, frighteningly competent old maid who is Anne's neighbor during Anne's first couple of years of marriage, and who takes Anne under her wing and encourages Anne to be friends with their other neighbor who isn't very friendly but desperately needs true friends. I felt that, as I head in to old maindenhood myself, I don't mind having her as a -- I'm not sure what the inverse of a namesake is. At any rate, I could do much worse than to turn out like Cornelia Bryant.

    I had just declared my philosophy major when I was choosing my gmail account name, and since I'm a girl, I picked "philosophene." When I found the Philosophy Department at BYU, I felt-- and looking back, it still has this same feeling for me-- like Harry Potter at Hogwarts: suddenly, all of my weird academic quirks and interests made more sense than they ever had, were welcomed, even became useful! I have no idea if I'll ever be able to go back (um, flunking Aristotle certainly didn't help much for that prospect), but I will never regret having graduated in philosophy. My addiction to thinking in general, and particularly to wondering about the "why" of practically everything-- that which finally landed me in philosophy at the end of my somewhat extended undergraduate career-- remains a major part of my character, and I hope it always will.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Chickens Playing Bongos

    You know when you've already shown a youtube video to every member of the household you currently live in, and have called other people for no other purpose than to try to get them to look it up, it's time to blog about it.

    Monday, June 7, 2010

    I don't feel like Writing (or at least, not on this blog)

    But luckily I took some pictures a couple of months ago which I feel like sharing.

    Cherry tree at sunset

    Looking up at a different cherry tree, around the corner from our row of townhouses

    I kept trying to get a shot of this from my room-- then you'd have had a chance to see it from the top, which is the angle from which it brought loads of happiness into my life-- but the light would never  quite cooperate. It was worth taking the picture from different perspective, though; doesn't the streetlight remind you, just a little, of the lamp-post you first meet at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? And I would never have even realized the possibility if I hadn't come around the other side.

    And the same tree from closer by. I love the contrast between the creamy-white blossoms and the red and blue of the child's toy. This shot comes closer to showing what bliss awaited me whenever I looked out my window, down on this tree, in those heady few weeks of spring.


    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Summer Squash and Sweet Potatoes

    Remember in Prince Caspian (umm... I think not the movie, but I've only seen it once-- but definitely it is in the book) when it says that Trumpkin has "marvelous ideas about cookery," and they take their apples and wrap bear meat around them and spear them on sticks and then roast the whole kebab over the fire? Right. I just knew you did.

    So, I told a couple of different people about how I cooked the summer squash we were getting from our produce co-op, and both of them immediately said, "I should do that!" This is when I thought that perhaps I should blog the recipe-- if it could even be called a recipe. It's a little too simple to feel like a proper recipe to me. It is, you could say, an idea.

    • summer squash
    • oil (I always use olive oil)
    • salt
    Slice the summer squash thin. Mix it with, like, half a cup of oil for every summer squash? And then spread it out over a large, heavy pan (I used the large pyrex pan we still have left after I exploded that one last summer), sprinkle it with salt, and put it in the oven for, like, an hour, at 350 degrees F.

    A lighter-weight pan will produce more uneven results (found this out by testing it). I find that it doesn't take that long to arrange my slices in a sort of French-looking way-- you know, all overlapping and even-- and that this helps it to bake more evenly. Of course, you CAN use less oil, but of course that will make it harder for the natural sugars of the squash to come out and caramelize and get all delicious-like. Also, the slices reduce in size considerably while they're cooking, so it's OK to really pack them in there, side-to-side-wise.

    Also. This can be done with sweet potatoes, which we did last night and they really are pretty good. I must admit that our household is having a bit of a craze for thin-sliced vegetables at the moment, since Mom got a food processor for me herself for Mother's day; if you don't have one available, the sweet potatoes are still pretty good when they are more thickly sliced.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    At the National Aroboretum

    I visited The National Arboretum yesterday because I was looking for something cheap, preferably free, to do between working in the temple in the morning and going to a cookout in Virginia in the evening (because Virginia is the other direction from the temple than my house, so going home in between seemed like a waste of an hour and a half and a quarter tank of gas).

    So. Admission to the National Arboretum is free! So is admission to the National Zoo, but at the National Arboretum, parking is free, too! And it was QUITE beautiful. Among the rules listed in their little pamphlet were that wedding and commercial photography would only be allowed if you asked permission ahead of time, and that in some instances you would have to pay a fee. I could see their point. It was beautiful enough to warrant lots of wedding photography being done there, and clearly they aren't making a lot of money off of their visitors in other ways.

    I wandered through for only a short time (I didn't have as much down time as I had anticipated), thinking about how this place would be the perfect date place for my parents. One of the delights of my life is to be in a car with both of my parents and have them identify some roadside flora, planted there by humans or not, and have them identify both its common name and its Latin name. "Oh, there's some something-or-other-flower!" one will say; and the other will say, "Yeah, something-or-other-i-cum; we used to sell a lot of those in the shop around Mother's Day," and then the conversation will be over and my life will be that much richer. An herb garden, bonsai exhibit, and native-fern planting-- just for starters-- seem PERFECT for them.

    As I wandered through the clearly European-inspired (perhaps Tuscan-inspired, but I hesitate to pin down influences which I'm just not sure about) anyway, the inspired (and it was!) herb garden, I noticed a sign by the pathway of the variety which, often, warns visitors to keep off the grass, or in a horticultural garden may inform them of the name of a nearby specimen; in this case it announced a "free cell phone tour." It gave a number which would, indeed, use up minutes to call, but which would give one a free-other-than-that audio tour of the garden.

    And, being the low-picture blogger that I am, I don't have pictures. I haven't even posted the ones yet that I took of the really cute turtles that came out one morning by the lake, nor have I taken the ones I wanted to of the log-over-the-stream-which-again-reminds-me-of-a-fantasy-novel-because-I-grew-up-in-a-desert-and-that-much-green-still-seems-fantastic-to-me. I have, however, uploaded a picture that one of my weathercolour nieces uploaded for me as my avatar. She called it "Victorian Lady," and it looks--mm-- at least a little bit like me. My hair is brown, at least. And I am certainly rather Victorian. Isn't it beautiful? (You can see the full-sized version at her blog,

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    The Virtues of the Grandparents

    Last night we were talking about this and that, and Papa mentioned that when he was working at Davis, in California (before he got married), his boss had a mother-in-law who was addicted to gambling. Then he said, "Well, she wasn't the only one... I remember one night when he [the boss] and some other guys offered to take me down to the 'cat patch;' I told them that in our religion, we would consider it to be better to lose our life than to lose our virtue, and they said that they guessed that they had better not take me."

    In a world where frequently religious people, and even (especially in the past) non-religious folks have held a double-standard of virtue for men and women, I deeply appreciated his commitment, long before he met my mother, to being pure for her. This is the first time I have heard this story about Papa, but it reminded me of a story he has told me a couple of times before about his dad [story redacted because I just told him I posted it and he just told me that I was getting him mixed up with his dad. Grngh. I never forget things! That's Papa's job! Oh, well. I shall write up the alternate story he suggested at some other time.]

    And THAT reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother the other day-- again, a story I had never heard before. She said that the reason why she had never cheated in school was because of the stories her dad had told her about navigators during WWII who had cheated their way through navigator school and then died. The part she did not say, because we both know it so well, is that Grandpa got a distinguished flying cross because he most certainly did not cheat his way through navigator school, and in fact knew his job so well that he was able to do it under truly trying circumstances. The other part she didn't say, because we both know, is that one of the few things Grandpa was willing to say about his WWII experience is that he stopped making friends, because you'd make friends with a guy at breakfast and he'd be dead by dinner. I am guessing that he didn't look too kindly on those who made this sort of thing more likely to happen.

    Which in turn reminded me of the times I have been tempted to study on Sundays-- not that I'm saying it's a terrible thing to study on Sundays, but... my mother, Nana to the neeflings, has told me more than once that she got all the way through her PhD without ever studying on a Sunday. I decided to try it. It isn't that I had been studying on Sundays and stopped, but I had wondered if there would come a point when I just had to because I had so much work to do. I guess you could say that I decided to keep the commandment in faith-- not doing it out of habit, but to see if there were any blessings I might catch by doing so. I have never regretted that decision. I now have a Bachelor's degree and a Graduate Certificate (which is to a Master's sort of as an Associate's degree is to a Bachelor's), and what vestiges of sanity I have left after all that school were definitely preserved by having a day off every week. And on a more serious note: I honestly believe that my ability to retain and process information has been greatly enhanced, both by my Sunday-rest-keeping habits and by my scripture study habits. Maybe it's just that a rested brain is less likely to be sieve-like; I'm not really sure of the mechanism; but it is a family tradition which I have every intention of carrying on.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    A Very Abbreviated List of my Favorite (Board) Books

    Maria Tatar asked some time back for a list of peoples' top ten picture books. After brainstorming, I found that my list was more than half board books. So, I filled out the rest of the list with board books and decided to do other kinds of books later.

    • Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas, by Nick Butterworth
    • Goodnight, Gorilla, by Peggy Rathman
    • almost anything by Helen Oxenbury
    • Dinosaur’s Binkit (and many, many things by Sandra Boynton; any of her later books will be excellent)
    • Gossie (and other books in this series), by Olivier Dunrea
    • Mole and the Baby Bird, by Marjorie Newman
    • Max's Bedtime, by Rosemary Wells
    • Freight Train, by Donald Crews
    • Piggies, by Don and Audrey Wood (as well as many of their other books, most of which are not sold as board books)
    • the Maisy books, by Lucy Cousins

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    Now We Can Do Story Problems In Our Head*

    Sparker (my 7-year-old penguinnephew) recently learned to make his own oatmeal. The other morning, he was taking forever at it; he just kept staring into the measuring cup drawer. Finally, he asked where the one-sixth-cup measuring cup was. He had already put in one third of a cup of whatever it was, and what he needed was one-half cup, so he was looking for the one-sixth cup measure to fill out his amount.

    *You know, kind of like A.A. Milne's "Now We Are Six"?

    Friday, May 21, 2010

    Bibliotards In Good Company

    I remember once when my brother-in-law, Mr. Weathercolour, announced that he had found a word for "people like us."  "It combines Greek and Latin roots," he said, apologetically.

    "People like us?"

    "People who check out way too many library books and then turn them in late and rack up huge library fines. We're bibliotards."

    And, unfortunately, I can't really deny that that title is pretty apt for me. You know you are an unusual patron when the librarian is shocked that you aren't shocked at the size of your library fine.

    One friend was telling me the other day that during a recent discussion with her children, they offered to give up their allowances if that would allow the family finances to stretch so that they could get in to a bigger house-- but she had to inform them that reducing the amount they paid monthly in library fines would actually help more. (Though, this story could also-- correctly-- be read as a commentary on how small said allowances are more than how large the library fines are.)

    Several years after that initial "bibliotard" conversation with Mr. Weathercolour, I was lamenting a huge (seemingly un-pay-able, at the time) library fine to my bishop at the time (since I'm a Latter-Day-Saint, this means that my interlocutor was a leader of a local congregation, somewhat like a pastor, rather than of anything larger). In response, he told me this wonderful story about when he was living in a little teeny town in Michigan, decades earlier-- before the library had become computerized. Under the Old Regime, your library card was a 3x5 card with your name on the top and the titles of the books you had checked out running down the long side of the card, with their due dates next to them. You crossed out the title of a book once it was returned. On one occasion, when he went to check out a book, the fierce-as-a-dragon-little-old-lady-librarian said, "You see this?!?" She was pointing to his card, which had, at that point, racked up a sizable fine. "I'm not going to check anything out to you until you pay that fine!"

    His wife's response was, "Good for her! Someone needs to stand up to you!"

    So he sheepishly paid the fine.

    And then, several months later (we all joke about this happening, but you knew that it actually had to have happened somewhere, at some time, right? ("we" meaning bibliotards, of course)) the library was going through its records and sending out invitations to a black-tie dinner being held for people who had contributed over a certain amount to the fund for the new library, and guess who got an invite to the fancy dinner? With his wife, of course.

    And now-- I'm sure you've seen the article, but just in case you hadn't, I had to post it-- now I believe we've been officially joined by the most illustrious member of the club yet. George Washington himself failed to return a couple of books to the New York Public Library within his lifetime, though one of them has recently been returned by the nice people now running his estate. (What this second article does not make clear is whether the book returned was the one originally checked out, or just the same edition of the same title. I'll let you know if I find out.) I will say, if they'd been raising funds for a library addition, I might have rooted for them to hold out for the $300,000 fine to be paid-- it could have been an excellent start for such a fundraiser-- and then again, in New York, maybe it wouldn't have paid for more than an extra couple of square feet anyway.

    French-Style Green Beans

    All I can say is that I have paid exorbitant amounts of money per pound for green beans, just so that I could have these. They're worth at least a try, is what I say.

    1 lb.* green beans
    1 oz. butter**
    1 medium onion

    Put a pot of water on to boil that is big enough to hold the beans and a plate (if you decide to do the plate part.)

    Chop the onion fine, and put it on to fry, with the butter, on "low." Put a lid on the pan, and raise it now and again to make sure that the onions aren't getting done too much in one spot as compared to the others. If they are, stir them with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

    Rinse the beans, then cut off their tops and tails. Dump them in the boiling water. If you want to, put a plate over them (I've actually only done this step once, but the beans were, indeed yummier when I did); I must say that that tongs are pretty helpful for getting the plate out when the time comes. Boil the beans for 8-10 minutes. When the beans are done, strain out the water and then put the beans back in the pan and toss them over dry heat.

    The onions are done when they are light brown. Serve the beans on a plate with the onions on top-- or, if you want, to the side (this is so that everyone can get their fair share of onion topping-- it can sort of clump, otherwise--but at any rate, going without topping is NOT done. Or at least, not in my family).

    *I almost always estimate all of the amounts for this recipe. It's pretty forgiving.

    **If you are concerned about the butter, you can indeed substitute oil, but if you can have any butter at all, I would add a little in at the end for flavoring-- it really adds a lot to the recipe.

    I got this recipe from The Complete Illustrated Step-By-Step Cookbook, which was compiled by Judith Ferguson and published in 1989 and is my Favorite Cookbook Of All Time (so far), but I'll talk about that later.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    When Bad Things Happen to... People. Just People.

    Most of the stuff I post is pretty child-friendly, but: the last article is PG. Just so you know.(And the note about the note: already I have feedback that there is nothing too shocking about that article. My personal rating system goes something like this: if I wouldn't want to have to explain something to a kid without at least a little warning ahead of time, I think a thing is PG.)

    I'm always so interested in what happens to the regular people who end up being caught in conflict zones. I am well aware that each side will paint the other in black-and-white terms, but that the reality is much more complicated than that. A couple of BBC articles have illustrated this for me recently.

    In the first, we learn of a Palestinian man who works to build those illegal Jewish Settlements in the (occupied) West Bank. We know that everyone but a few radical Israelis acknowledge that the settlements are illegal and need to be disbanded before a peace agreement can be reached, right? However, this man has a large family, and he cares more about feeding them than about the broader political implications of his work. What really caught me, though, was what the Israeli construction manager said about using Palestinian labor: "Even if they weren't so cheap, we'd still want to use them because they work so hard."

    Here's the article:

    There was also an article yesterday about a Palestinian lady who would just like to be allowed to return to her childhood home, please. She doesn't care if Israelis live there; she'd just like to live there, too.

    Another article from yesterday was about a woman from Vietnam who had been the subject of an iconic photograph. The woman had been badly injured, as a child, during the Vietnam war. It was interesting to me that she was used by the Vietnamese government to show how horrible the Americans were (it was an American attack that hurt her), but she didn't want the attention, and ran away from it, literally, more than once. She wanted to be a Just Plain Person, rather than the woman who was once the girl who had been in that photograph. Unfortunately for her, the press (from all over) kept tracking her down. In the end, she decided that she could do something else with all that famous-ness. "[She] establish[ed] the Kim Phuc Foundation, which provides medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war."

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    Peach Cake Filling

    WARNING: Under normal circumstances, I try to share only recipes which I have tried time and again under varying circumstances, and which I know are winners for the crowd I cook for. That is not the case with this recipe. I have cooked it exactly once, and that time was on Mother's Day. I am posting it because Mrs. Weathercolour asked me to share it with her, and I felt that a) blogging it was an efficient means of getting it to her, and b) if anyone else wants to try it and give me feedback (it is so rich that we won't be doing it too often around here, so it may take a long time to perfect) I would be very pleased.

    1 29-oz can sliced peaches in syrup
    about* 1/4 cup corn starch
    1/2 c. vanilla sugar
    1/4 t. salt
    1/2 t. almond extract (yes, this is almost the limit of how much it can take)
    2 T butter
    Dump the peaches into a saucepan. Combine the sugar and the salt with the cornstarch, and mix it well enough that the cornstarch won't be lumpy after you add it to the peaches. Then add the sugar mixture to the peaches. Cook all this, stirring "constantly" (meaning, just like lemon meringue pie filling and white sauce, you can get away with neglecting it for small periods of time, especially if you have a wire whisk on time) until it comes to a boil; let it boil for 1 minute; then take it off the heat. Add the butter and the almond extract, and stir them in. Mine ended up a little soupy, but then I'm not sure I added a full quarter cup of cornstarch. But I'm not completely sure I didn't. *sigh*

    The cake I put this on/in was a regular box-mix yellow cake. Nothing too exciting. I baked it in two 8-inch rounds, and put the filling in between the layers, on top, and then spooned a little more on to each slice. I knew I had gotten the balance of flavors just right when it became difficult to stop snitching it. If only I could be sure that I've recreated that mix in the proportions of this recipe. Do please let me know.

    *The truth about the measurements is that ALL of them are approximate (even the size of the can of peaches-- I compared to a can upstairs, but I used one from downstairs, which might have been an ounce or so different?), but the cornstarch measurement is particularly approximate.

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    I frogot to mention: a little Twain Trivia

    From the Wikipedia article on Mark Twain:

    In 1909, Twain is quoted as saying:[40]
    I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'
    His prediction was accurate – Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, in Redding, Connecticut, one day after the comet's closest approach to Earth.

    ^ Albert Bigelow Paine. "Mark Twain, a Biography". Retrieved 2006-11-01.

    (All of the above is directly from Wikipedia. I'm really unsure of how to do a double-block-quote, so I'm just letting you know and leaving it at that.) 

    Also, just before this in the Wikipedia article:
    Twain formed a club in 1906 for girls he viewed as surrogate granddaughters, the Angel Fish and Aquarium Club. The dozen or so members ranged in age from 10 to 16. Twain exchanged letters with his "Angel Fish" girls and invited them to concerts and the theatre and to play games. Twain wrote in 1908 that the club was his "life's chief delight."[39]
    ^ LeMaster J. R., The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, 1993 page 28

    And, from a biography I was browsing in the library today (Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years, by Michael Sheldon)-- which brought this all to mind-- I found out that he started a free public library in his adopted home town: Redding, Connecticut. To this he contributed many volumes from his own library, among which were Hawthorne, which he thought was boring, and some history book (working from memory, here) of which he said that any library that contained it could not justly be called dull.

    No, now that I think of it, this quote (which was quoted at the beginning of the biography, but which I had heard before) was what set my memory off, because we were discussing something to do with what Papa was going to wear: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society."

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Dear Children (mostly neeflings-not-visiting-me-at-the-moment),

    As I am sure you are aware, your cousins, the Penguin Children, are visiting. Both of them have asked me what I want for my birthday, and I told BOTH of them that I LOVE stories and pictures drawn and written by children.

    So, I am sort of asking for birthday presents here, but in return I am going to follow the Hobbit custom and post a story for you on the blog today. It's a bit long, so I will post part I today and part II -- um-- very soon. It really is mostly written. Unfortunately for your curiosity, there are three parts (so far), and I haven't even started part III yet. Also unfortunately for your curiosity, my motivation has never grown larger from nagging, so continually asking when I will finish is probably not the best strategy for getting me to do so. Telling me that you enjoyed the story might work, though. And if you are bored, you can write your own stories, right? Right.

    Annabel and the Gorgon, part I: Magical Corrective Lenses

    The week after Alexander met the gorgon on the way to his grandmother’s house, their Grandmother Hildegaard came to visit them. Alexander and his siblings, as usual, were delighted to have their grandmother for a visit, and they were very persistent about asking questions about her friend, the gorgon. Grandmother Hildegaard was not particularly forthcoming, however. She kept on putting them off and putting them off until finally, at dinnertime, she said,

    “Children, I have decided that I cannot really tell you about the Gorgon myself. Her life story is very sad, and I do not have permission from her to tell it. As I think about this problem, I am coming to the conclusion that the only thing for it is for you children to make friends with the Gorgon yourselves.”

    Alexander felt alarmed, and the rest of the children looked at each other nervously; but Annabel had been extremely curious about the Gorgon ever since Alexander had had his run-in with her, so she spoke up. "I think that's a lovely idea, Grandmother. When can we meet her?"

    "Well, first off, anyone who wants to be friends with a Gorgon is going to have to get a pair of Magical Corrective Lenses.”

    The children’s parents exchanged glances at this announcement, but the children did not notice this.

    “What are Magical Corrective Lenses please, Grandmother?” asked Annabel.

    “They are a kind of lens which allows you to see certain things as they truly are. My own reading spectacles are a variety of Magical Corrective Lenses, though normally I just use them for reading the fine print on medicine bottles and so on.”

    Several children started talking at once, but Annabel had learned at school that raising your hand can get a grownup’s attention when nothing else seems to be able to, so she did this now. “Yes, Annabel?” asked her grandmother.

    “Why couldn’t we just borrow your magical corrective lenses?” asked Annabel.

    “Because the magical part only works for the person for whom the Corrective Lenses have been made,” said grandmother.

    Now Annabel turned to her parents, pleading. “Couldn’t I get a pair? Pleease?”

    Her parents looked grave. “It isn’t just a matter of going down to the grocery store and getting a pair,” said Griselda, her mother. “I don’t even know if there is anyone around who makes them anymore. And even if there is someone around, it can be quite expensive to get a pair.”

    “If Grandmother thinks it would be worth it to be friends with a gorgon, and if getting magical corrective lenses is what we have to do to make friends with the gorgon, then I am willing to spend all of my Birthday money and all of my Christmas money on it,” said Annabel.

    The other children were pretty amazed by this. Making friends with the gorgon did seem like an interesting project, but they weren’t sure that it would be worth spending good Christmas and Easter money on.

    “If that’s how you feel, I’ll start looking on the Internet tomorrow for a shop,” said their mother.

    And that was what she did. She found one the next morning, and it wasn’t even that far away. It was a little shop that was tucked between the book shop they liked to frequent and a cobbler’s shop they always hurried past as fast as they could, because the cobbler didn’t like children very much (especially vampire children), and would yell at them if they got too close to his shoes (and this wasn’t very close).

    As they pushed through the front door, a little bell dinged. A few seconds later, Annabel could see something—a tuft of hair?—coming out from the back of the shop; but she couldn’t see much more, because whoever it was was hidden by a counter which was almost taller than Annabel.

    Finally he was close enough that the tuft had turned in to a face. “Mr. Rufus Ferner, at your service; and with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking this afternoon?”

    “Griselda the Witch, and my daughter, Annabel,” said Annabel’s mother.

    Annabel was a very well-raised child, and she knew very well the rules of politeness, but she wasn’t sure which one applied here: the pair of spectacles he was wearing was so extraordinary looking that she wanted to stare at it, but she knew that staring was rude. On the other hand, she knew that it was also rude not to look someone in the eye when you were meeting them. She felt frustrated as she realized she had already stared for several seconds, so then she made up her mind immediately, and stared at the floor.

    "What do you want?" asked Mr. Ferner.

     "I would like to get a pair of Magical Corrective Lenses for myself, please," she said.

    "YOU want to get Magical Corrective Lenses?" he asked Annabel, sounding very shocked. "WHY?" And he came around the counter to see her face to face.

    "My grandmother is friends with a gorgon and I want to make friends with the gorgon too, and grandmother said that I should get Magical Corrective Lenses so that I can."

    "Hmph. They're very expensive, you know."

    "Yes, I know. I have all of my allowance here, and I am willing to bring in all of my allowance all summer so that I can get them."

    They looked at each other for a moment.

    "Well. I appreciate the offer, but magical corrective lenses are a great deal more expensive than THAT." He shuffled back around the counter and struggled for a moment to pull open a drawer. "Ah! Here it is." He held up what looked like a seed packet; it had a picture of a red flower on front, and the bottom of it bulged out a little. "This is my second-to-last fire-flower seed. Fire-flowers are extremely rare and valuable. If you will grow this seed in to a grown-up fireflower, then the fire-flower will produce two seeds. You may keep one for yourself, but bring the other one back to me, and I will make you the magical corrective lenses. I warn you, it will be very difficult."

    "I would like to try anyway, thank you. I will ask my Grandmother Hildegaard for help."

    "Hmph. Well. You're one of Hildegaard's grandchildren then, are you? Them there is some chance you will succeed." He studied her face very carefully for several seconds, and she tried not to squirm. "Would you like to have a look at mine?” he asked.

    Annabel looked up with a huge grin on her face that said, “yes,” and Mr. Ferner took the spectacles off and handed them to her. “You can put them on if you’d like,” he said.

    And by now you are really wondering what those spectacles looked like, and I am going to tell you, if I can manage. If anyone can draw me a picture, that would be most handy. At any rate, the spectacles looked a little bit like a carnival mask, if you have ever seen one, only instead of fancy glittery mask, the part that was spread out was made of lenses. All of the lenses were attached to hinges, so that they could be slid down in to place in front of the wearer’s eyes, or slid out of place, as the wearer wished.

    Annabel put on the spectacles and looked up at her mother. At the moment, only the basic, first-level lenses were in place, but her mother looked pretty much like she always did. Annabel slid a set of lenses in to place; her mother now looked quite glowy, and Mr. Ferner’s hair had turned black instead of the white it was in real life. When she looked around the room, she saw-- well, I am getting distracted from the real story. Perhaps someone could draw a before-and-after picture of the shop, too.

    Annabel took the Magical Corrective lenses off and handed them back very carefully to the Magical Corrective Lens Maker. "Thank you," she said.

    "You're welcome," he replied, and then he said "good luck," and Annabel knew that this was his way of saying that she should leave, so she carefully tucked the seed packet in to her coat pocket, and then went outside with her mother.

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    And Now, Spring

    Moss on the roots of the neighbors' cherry tree:

    And a bush, whose name I should know but don't, at the corner of our property:

    The poor, snowed-upon hedge by the front walk has been rejuvenated (I was going to take an "after" shot from the same angle that I took that one during the snow storm, but then I realized that only a full-on side view could do justice to the beauty of the new growth. It's almost like a teenager, it's so leggy.)

    And finally, an only slightly blurry shot of the walk up the side of the house-- it doesn't normally look quite this ethereal, but I happened to be out at the right time of day to make it seem like Galadriel was going to make an appearance at ANY MOMENT. (Though you may notice that the "Galadriel Effect" is somewhat dampened with the realization that the boxy thing at the top of the hill is in fact our (communal) mailbox.)

    And now my camera card has properly been dumped, and I'm off for an evening walk.

    Maybe tomorrow, if I can, I will get a shot of the cardinal which has been frequenting the deck. Wish me luck.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    When my Grandma Cox was little, her father used to tell her that the call of the meadowlark was "El-ner's a pretty little girl! El-ner's a pretty little girl!" (Elner being Grandma's first name.)

    My own Papa told me this last night as we were chatting; he was talking about how he had just found out that day that a Killdeer is the same thing as a Plover, and he and Mom went on for a bit about how they used to see Killdeer all of the time in their respective rural homes-of-origin (Mom in Northern California, Dad in Southeast Idaho), and then they got on to how they would see Meadowlarks fairly frequently, too. For some reason I asked what the call of the Meadowlark was, and that is when he told me what his mother told him. (I have been thinking (non-continuously) for about twenty-four hours about how I was going to tell this story without using the expression "he told me that she told him that her father used to tell her, and now I'm telling you..." but here now I've just gone and done it. Oh, well.)

    Here is a link to a web page-- scroll down a bit-- with a video-with-audio of a Western Meadowlark (it is helpfully labeled "Youtube"). Evidently one of the few things which makes them truly distinguishable from the Eastern variety is their call. The third call on the video is the one which I think fits best with the rhythm of the chant/tune that Dad told me about, but the fact that they don't match up exactly makes me wonder: do we have our birds mixed up? Is there a bird which isn't a meadowlark, whose song more closely resembles the one Dad sang to me? If anyone knows anything about this, please comment away!

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Things I Love About My Sisters

    Did I mention that I had four sisters? I have four sisters. And a brother-- not to forget him! But it is sisters of whom I speak today. Here are the things I love about them:

    1. We sound alike, which means that we sound really quite lovely when we sing together.

    2. We make each other smarter. We each have different, yet overlapping interests, and we all love telling each other the coolest things about our respective fields. Because of me, my sisters can recognize a greeting in Arabic (Ahalan wiSahalan!) and because of them I know: the name for the body of a penguin (fusiform), what Simone de Bauvoir's undergraduate majors were (mathematics and philosophy), why you can find a typewriter in the Refrigeration subclass of the Patent Office (because subclasses used to be divided according to what each examiner covered), and why October 31 is more than a worn-out, warped, pagan-then-Christian holiday to the Girl Scouts (it is the birthday of Julia Ward Howe, who was the founder of the Girl Scouts).

    3. We are loyal to each other. If I complain to one sister about another, she takes that as a cue to help me realize that the other sister is under stress, or that I misunderstood her, or that I need a good night's sleep and will feel better about it in the morning. Gossip is not an option; even when I forget, my sisters do not.

    4. We make each other know that we are not alone. Or let each other know, perhaps, but I think it may be stronger than letting. We remind each other of famous/successful people who were also forgetful, jobless, under-respected, close to giving up, and/or very, very poor, at least at some point in their lives. We help each other laugh, and announce how we have moved the furniture around, and change topics of conversation at a speed which, to outsiders, can be dizzying. We rejoice to each other about the younger generation-- the neeflings, as they are known on this blog-- both in announcing their accomplishments and laughing over the hilarious, child-like things they do.

    5. We teach each other how to be friends. All of the things which I have listed here are true of my four "real" sisters; but from number 2 on, they have also often been true of the excellent friends I have picked up along the way. I'm not sure how prepared I would have been to actually form good friendships like that if I hadn't had sisters to train me first in the arts of friendship.

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010


    If you haven't read the post just below this one, you might want to, just so this one will make sense.

    I also know that the landscape of mathematics is not so much like a Savings and Loan or like Citibank nearly so much as it is like some sort of magnificent nature preserve with mountains and rivers and lakes and so on. And I know that it is my very ability to recognize the beauty of this landscape which allows me to keep exploring it for fun, which in turn is what has allowed me to become actually good at navigating through it.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    Our (metaphorical) patch of land

    I'm taking a math class.

    It's turning out to be-- erm-- ah-- easy. Too easy.

    Yes, I DO hear your screams of frustration even through my computer screen.

    This is the thing. In this modern day and age, one still needs an inheritance-- but not a patch of land, like the Ancient Israelites got, or even like my more recent ancestors-in-Manti got. These days, rather than land to make a living, one needs a profession. (Not my ideas for this part; they are from/through my brother-in-law, the esteemed Mr. Weathercolour, and his (also) esteemed friend, *Mr. Werner Woodworth, who works at the BYU business school.) So. In a broader societal context, this means that we give young people good chances for vocational/technical and/or academic training, and in particular contexts that means that particular young people are encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities.

    And what is this patch of land of which I spoke in the title of this post? Well. Mom has a PhD in Math. She works as a professional mathematician by day, but has often supplemented it by tutoring nights and weekends; at the moment she is tutoring the next-door-neighbor for free, because that is just the way she is. Mr. Weathercolour has his PhD in Physics but is teaching math, at the moment, at the university level. Ivy has a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering and got through her degree by tutoring math; and Klari has her bachelor's in Math, has been tutoring for years, and is looking to be a math teacher in the public schools. And the truly silly thing is (I am telling you really, really I am not boasting) that this math class of mine is easy not even because I have so many tutors available to me, but because it makes sense to me shortly after the teacher explains it (or after I read it in the book).

    I do REALIZE that this is a prime piece of real estate on which my family has its flag planted. (We would like it to be more crowded, actually. We are, to a woman-- er, so to speak-- all math teachers of one variety or another.) But what I am saying is, I had wanted to try something different: my bachelor's is in Philosophy. I have a degree in English as a Second Language Teaching. I TRIED to find a job as an English teacher. But I am finding myself drawn back to the homeland, almost against my will, because math is something I can move forward in easily and I have become so incredibly discouraged that I have to do something that doesn't take that much effort.

    OK, go ahead and be sick about it. I didn't ask for this ability-- not in this life, at least. It isn't exactly that I would trade it to you-- but-- at the moment, I'm feeling a bit George-Bailey-esque. And guilty at the same time, because the little Savings and Loan that I've inherited (from my perspective) looks a lot more like Citibank, to a lot of other people. Meaning, as an institution it is nice to the people who already have lots of their currency, and kind of mean to the ones who don't. I am already committed to sharing the wealth; but won't you come, bring your children, and become rich for yourselves so that I can go travel the world for a while?

    *His real name

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    Snow: check.

    I took pictures and meant to post about last December's 18-inch-deep blizzard, but never got around to it. Then, a couple of days ago, we got 33 inches in 24 hours or so. On Thursday night, the library looked like Grand Central Station (or, to use my mother's inimitable expression about the grocery store just before the December storm, like the Post Office on April 15th). Friday afternoon was when the storm was scheduled to begin; I got home around noon-ish, feeling like it was Christmas or something. On Saturday afternoon, I finally got around to taking a few pictures:

    The above is our "deck;" it's more like a balcony, and often we keep plants on it. In the summer, for instance. For your information, there are no plants on it in this picture; the snow really is up to the railings like that. Here, you can see it better in this one (those plant silhouettes are from plants on the inside of the building):

    I wasn't sure if you could get the idea just from the pictures of the back, so I took a couple of pictures out the front door:

    This really doesn't give you a good idea at all of how deep it is on the cars, but a photographer with a nearly-full card can only do so much. Now that I've uploaded these, I can take some more. That snow bank at the back of the parking lot, below the fir tree, is approximately as high as an SUV. No, come to think of it, actually a little higher.

    I really do love the snow. Can't tell you why, other than that when I was a little girl in Idaho, I loved walking through the snow that was as deep as my thighs (remember, I was short-- also, it snowed more then) and I still kind of miss it. I especially love how bright it is.

    We did have a bit of drama when my sister got sick on Saturday night and couldn't really talk and Mom got super-worried and called an ambulance (because, we were clearly NOT going to be able to just drive her to the doctor's office); she is fine now, but quite tired, and no, we have no idea what was wrong. She was going to go to her regular doctor's office today, to get checked out, but-- surprise!-- they're closed. As is the Federal Government, which means that she doesn't have to take sick leave, being sick. Blessings abound! Also, since the ambulance came with a snow-plough in tow, we have one of the few ploughed streets in the area. Which is nice. And also means that several of the folks who live down the hill from us, whose road hasn't been ploughed, chose to park in our lot rather than risk going down hill again. That's why we had SUVs randomly sitting next to the snowbank, next to the fir tree, handily giving me a basis for comparison so that I can impress you all with how deep the snow REALLY is. (Oh, and to answer the question I'm sure you will ask: Ivy is hoping to go to the doctor's office tomorrow. She has announced that, snow day or not, she isn't going back to work until she's been checked out. Most sensible of her, I say.)

    Also, tomorrow we are getting another light storm, originally predicted to be 6 inches-- now they're saying 8. Ivy (my sister) and I are kind of thinking that it's possible we'll get another snow day. No telling for sure.

    Now I must needs get down and help Dad again. Because of the ambulance emergency, we do have one car dug out, and (more blessings!) Mom already left for a work trip and Dad is going out to Utah for a family thing tomorrow, which means (this is the blessing part) we don't really need that much in terms of car-age. Still, it would be nice if Ivy and I didn't have to coordinate to try to get us both to and from work and, for me, school, so Dad and I are trying to get Mom's car out. Dad decided to just gamble and try to drive it over the snow which hadn't been removed yet. He lost. We're now trying to dig out under the car. Also, Ivy suggested that I might walk to the grocery store for more peanut butter chips (being good Mormons-- meaning, in this instance, that we keep enough food stored to last several months-- that's the only thing we don't have on hand for a Perfectly Delightful Winter Storm Snow-in). Wish me luck.