Showing posts from 2012


I cringe when I hear someone called "crafty", and I doubt I will ever feel comfortable using the word on someone who does crafts.  This is one of those situations where common misuse legitimizes an error, like the modern spelling of "donut".  What was once improper becomes not only accepted, but more commonly used than the original.  Language changes with use.  It is alive that way, and I fully accept that describing someone as crafty now means that they either enjoy doing crafts or excel at them, or some combination of the two.  It just doesn't sit right that way in my vocabulary.

     When I first encountered the word, it didn't apply to crafts at all.  If you were good with your hands or inclined to crochet, whittle or make collages, people might say you were creative, talented or industrious.  To say you were crafty would be mildly insulting.  It meant you were up to something, something that probably had little to do with yarn or glitter- unless y…

Hard Road

"Don't forget to sleep," I tell him as I'm going out the door to work.  At 8 am, he's been home less than an hour after an hour long commute, and he's still working.  There are schedules to arrange and payroll to approve, email and phone calls to answer and figurative fires to put out.  Remembering to sleep is a real concern.

     During the holiday buying season, his company is at its busiest, and the shipping operation he manages at two warehouses is the focal point of that activity.  There are hordes of temporary workers to train and to inspire to care about a job that demands attention to details and a quick pace.  There are daily struggles with equipment and technology, delivery schedules and personalities under pressure.  The business goes around the clock this time of year.  Managers and supervisors have divided up the shifts so there's always someone in each warehouse to guide the workflow and respond to the inevitable crises.  My husband cho…

Heading for the Holidays

There are astronomical reasons for the similarities among celebrations this time of year.  Despite differences of culture or religion, there are common elements because we share a world.  Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are on the verge of winter, with days growing shorter until the solstice turns the tide.  We have a sense that we are going down into darkness, and that has influenced our holidays.  Winter holidays, and those of late autumn, tend to be about light, family and tradition.  Winter holidays are about making it through to the next Spring.

     As days grow short, we crave the light.  Twinkling bulbs, flickering candles or roaring fires all remind us of brighter days and make the darkness a little less bleak.  Even the use of gold and silver in holiday decorations may be an unconscious attraction to the glints of light they reflect.

     We also recognize that the cold, dark months ahead will be more bearable if we gather friends and family around us.  We seek home…

Home Remedy

Just about every family has its own special cure for the common cold.  Mention your sniffles, and you'll get suggestions from all sides.  Some are as simple and predictable as chicken soup, and others are more arcane.  Perhaps this is the natural result of not having an official medicinal cure for the problem.  We have to fight, so we try all sorts of things and hang onto what makes us feel a little better.  At least we feel like we've done something about it.

     The primary reason science has had such a hard time with the common cold, as I understand, is that it is as good at adapting to new conditions as the human beings it infects.  Colds change.  They resist attempts to wipe them out, and medicine that might have worked in the past isn't guaranteed to work again.  Fighting a cold can't be done by putting on your heavy armour and reaching for a big sword (metaphorically...or literally, I guess.)  It's more like learning to dodge and keeping your pockets f…

The Baker's Daughters

"They say the owl was a baker's daughter.  Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be."
     William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Ophelia) Act 4, Scene 5

     In school, I was surprised to encounter this quote and not need the teacher's explanation.  Not only did I know what Shakespeare was getting at, but also his original source.  I had read the story of the baker's daughter many years before in the folktales I read for entertainment.  That I could share some common knowledge with an Elizabethan poet (some would say The Elizabethan poet) was interesting, but it shows how these stories, told again and again to children, are a thread that runs through time.  Shakespeare's reference may have contributed to keeping the story alive in my age, but that doesn't negate the significance.  It reinforces it.  We lift up the stories from our childhood and throw them forward for future generations to discover.  That's how folklore works.

     In the sto…


One of my sisters can juggle.  She may not be the only juggling sister, but she's the only one I've seen doing it.  She does pretty well.  We're not talking about flaming knives level, but she's juggled all the usual less deadly objects.  She performs smoothly on her own or with a partner.  I've only ever been able to manage three items for a very short while, myself.  It's enough to get the idea of it, though.  To be successful at the feat, you have to keep moving.  You have to do what needs to be done when it needs doing, and any break in timing could undo the whole dance.

     This same juggling sister once commented that she didn't know how I managed to juggle so many things in my life.  It was long ago when I was a young wife, taking care of a home and a child, working part time and trying to start a business, and at the same time, diving into several creative projects of my own.  It's done just like juggling pins or balls, as I'm sure she…

Hearth Fires

In ages past, primitive man huddled by a fire at night.  He did it to keep away the cold, to have protection from some wild animals and a place to cook others, and because it was a source of light in the darkness.  The fire was a reminder and reassurance of the future day, something to carry him forward with courage.  When work or travel must pause until daybreak, the fire was also entertainment and relaxation.  Staring into the flames gave him time and focus to reflect or imagine.

     Naturally, he would gather his family there, and that would expand the activity to a community.  The very earliest communities were families.  Like a wolf pack, a tribe would be composed of siblings and their children, branching out into an extended family.  Generations and occasional additions from other tribes might increase the genetic distance between members, but a tribe is a family nonetheless.  And gathering the family around the fire was a major part of early man's social life.  For a …

Unique Together

This week, I have been reflecting on Gen Con.  I realize that many readers may not be familiar with this event, now in its 45th year, so here's a little introduction and history.  Gen Con began as a smallish gathering of wargame fans in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  Less than 100 people participated, playing mostly military miniatures battles and a few other strategy games.  This was so much fun and considered such a success that it became an annual event, growing each year to more than 41,000 attendees at its most recent.  The convention has moved around a bit over the years, settling in Milwaukee for a time, then moving to Indianapolis a decade ago. (I first went during its Milwaukee years)  As it expanded, it became more and more inclusive.  Other types of games were represented, role-playing, card games, board games and video games.  Related interests like art, film, writing and costumes were welcomed.  Events and seminars for all sorts of skills and hobbies were added, both f…

This Is Not My Chair

In the week following my trip to the emergency room, I've been to and from the doctor's office a couple of times.  I've submitted to tests that were inconvenient and unpleasant, all while recovering and trying to maintain something like a normal life at home and work.  It turns out I have a combination of conditions that can be addressed and overcome, or at least endured.  Things will ultimately be OK.  However, my last doctor visit was a bit turbulent.  There was the anxiety of discovering a new ailment, the process of absorbing information and weighing treatment options, considering what path might work with my current insurance.  I was sent off to fetch medicine only to be turned away by the pharmacy because the insurance company would only work directly with the doctor on approving this treatment.  That meant a second trip to the doctor that day, and a long explanation of the circumstances.  I'm still waiting on the arrangements to be made so that I can proce…

Writing Emergency

It was some time around 2am on Saturday morning, and I was sitting on a hospital bed with a needle in my arm, waiting for a nurse or doctor to return.  We were at the emergency room in response to a crisis that turned out to be less life-threatening than I feared but frightening nonetheless.  Me, asking to see a doctor.  You know something had to be wrong.  So, we were sitting there at a calmer moment, and my husband reached into my backpack that he had filled hastily on our way out of the house and pulled out my notebook.

     "How are you going to use this one in Ullen's story?" he asked, smiling.  This was one of those moments when it became absolutely clear that he is perfect for me.  No socks in the bag, but he brought my notebook.

     I told him I doubted this particular event would work with that storyline, following a weaponsmith who had fallen on hard times in his pseudo-medieval fantasy world.  No, he'll not likely be going to the emergency room any t…

The Franklin Time Machine

Benjamin Franklin built a time machine.

     This is probably not true, but it can be fun to think about.  He was a pretty bright guy, inventive and open-minded.  He could have done it if he really focused on the project.  Instead, he spent his time writing, making social commentary, tinkering with other stuff, and flirting with French women.  He started libraries, fire departments and hospitals.  He invented a stove and swim fins.  He fought government corruption, stood up for the rights of women, slaves and the poor, and helped found a new nation.  That guy was all over the place.  Imagine what he could have done with all that energy focused on just one task.  Perhaps in another reality, he did just that, and he made it work.  I'd like to think that he'd have a good time cavorting through the ages, watching the way societies and technology change while people remain basically the same.  Being about as wise as he was smart, he'd be able to observe without making too …

Love Your Weeds, Again (and again, and again, even when it seems like others will never agree)

Back in May of 2010, I wrote a post on the joys of having a little untamed greenery in your domain.  Later, in July, I followed it with a tale of the conflict of landscaping philosophies we've had with a neighbor and how we managed to assert our autonomy in the face of his hostility.  What appeared to have been resolved then was only sleeping, it seems, to wake when the neighbor felt a little cantankerous again.

     A little over a week ago, I was out pruning the lilacs and trimming some of the other plants that decorate our front yard when he asked to talk to my husband.  His complaint was that our son never mows the patch of "weeds" near the fence, and he was concerned they might creep over and affect his garden.  Now, there are certain areas where the natural plants flourish and add a woodsy quality to the shady parts of the yard.  There are also areas where we have deliberately planted native perennials because they're well adapted to the soil and weather c…

Breaking Habits

Human beings are creatures of habit.  So are other creatures, as far as I have observed, but since most of the creatures who read this blog are humans, I'll focus on that angle.  We all develop routines.  We do things in the same way or at the same time over and over, day in and day out.  The patterns repeat without interference from our brains, and that's the point.  When you've worked out the mundane stuff and you can just follow the routine, your mind is free to work on more interesting things.

     Even someone like me who appreciates random surprises will fall into habitual patterns.  I still wake up at the same time each morning.  It doesn't matter if it's a weekend or vacation except that on those days, I may get to roll over and take an immediate nap.  The internal alarm clock still rings at 6 each day.  Each morning, I follow the same steps to get ready for the day.  I drive the same route to work and park in the same spot.  Then, the second pattern s…


Ah, Summertime!
When life becomes a full-speed tumble through weddings, graduations, picnics, and all sorts of social events that rush from invitation to "holy cow! That's tomorrow?  Wait, what day is today?" so fast you can feel the breeze as they pass.  Your evenings are spent with chores you couldn't get to on the weekend, and you barely have time to breathe much less compose a thoughtful blog post.

What happened to the time when summers were long days filled with tree-climbing, bike rides, fishing and swimming?  When soft dark nights were right for stargazing, firefly hunts or crack-the-whip?  Then again, I guess that was just another kind of tumble.

So, point one: I apologize for the posting delay, and the meager offering this time around.

And point two: If I don't get around to another post as soon as you'd like, please imagine me with a jar of fireflies.

And, yes, it's close enough to summer; my thermometer tells me so.

When I Grow Up

Some months ago, I was stopped by an employee as I walked through the store.  The young man only stated that I had a very confident stride, and then he moved on.  There was no follow up offer to direct me toward my goal.  The kid was half my age, so this was no flirtation.  It was simply a random compliment from a stranger.  Who knows?  Maybe he was a theatre student just trying to be observant about the way people move.  I was focused at  the time, knew what I wanted to buy and where to find it.  So, chances are, I was moving in a direct fashion.  It wouldn't be unusual.  The comment threw me momentarily, but I found it amusing and continued my course with a smile.

     Now, months later, I still think about it.  For one thing, I am more conscious of the way I walk.  As a writer, naturally, I paid attention to all the ways people tend to move, and I wasn't unaware of my own tendencies.  But, now I'm even more inclined to notice it as I'm in motion.  The most surp…

Considering Someday

We make promises to ourselves, and we break them.  We feel guilty, and the guilt can even eclipse the real consequences of the broken promise.  Guilt, or the threat of it, is a tool we use to keep ourselves on task, but that tactic can turn on us.  Too many broken promises, and you learn not to make them.  It's hard to make the leap from "want" to "goal" when you're afraid you're not good enough to get it done.  So you stay where it's safe, and you sacrifice the possibility of accomplishment to "someday."

     Here's the truth that you need to swallow before you can make good things happen in your life:
You are destined to fail. You will promise yourself things that you won't be able to deliver.  You will set goals you never reach.  It may be circumstances beyond your control that knock you off that ladder; it may be that the timing wasn't right for success, but you will fail. Sometimes. and then, sometimes, you won't.


I've always had an uneasy relationship with the act of throwing things away.  Like most things this deeply felt, it's been with me from childhood and probably has no clear incident at its root.  For one thing, as a child, throwing things out probably means that you were pressed into some pointless cleaning exercise like straightening your room.  Maybe you spent too many Wednesday nights dragging heavy metal trash cans to the curb.  So, it's bound to carry some negative associations.  For another thing, growing up poor means your small catalog of thing you have is diminishing by one every time something goes in the trash.  You think twice about it when you live under the cloud of never having enough.  If something could still be useful, you tend to hang on to it because it saves you doing without in the future.  In my house, all our hand-me-down clothes were handed down through five sisters and into the rag-bag after they became unwearable.  Often, these clothes would …


There is a particular sound that a guitar string makes when the guitarist slides his finger into the next position.  It's nothing more than a tiny squeak in the background of the music, but it's a sound I will dearly miss if I should ever go deaf.  I mentioned it in an earlier post about music, and recently, a CD with an acoustic guitar focus has me contemplating the reasons for my warm response to it.  Why, beyond a general love of music (and, really, have you ever encountered someone who doesn't like music?) does this particular sound always make me smile?

     Physiologically, there may be some response completely separate from the thinking world.  We have negative reactions to certain low frequency sounds that make us feel uneasy, so I'm sure there are other frequencies that can produce a positive response.  It's a possibility that the appeal is nothing more than good vibrations, scientifically speaking.  Then again, there are happy experiences in my past …

What Other Kids Do

Apologies, first of all, because this post is not as constructed as I generally offer.  It's more or less off the top of my head, but the topic is one I've been thinking about lately, and I wanted to record those thoughts despite my lack of free quiet time over the past few weeks.

     The general rule with social interaction is that you avoid speaking of religion or politics.  It's usually a wise rule because these are two areas people feel passionately about, and those who give the subjects that weight are frequently unwilling to listen to opposite opinions.  Yet, because they concern the things we believe, and because they are that important to us,  I think we may be missing out on opportunities to enrich ourselves when we choose to avoid those conflicts.  I tend to stick with the rule except when I'm with people I know are open to honest exploration.  But here, I guess you can always opt to stop reading if you don't agree, so I'm going to venture into that …

At the Library

Day to day, I watch the tides of interlibrary loan.  Books and media of all sorts move in and out of my department.  Other libraries' items flow in for our patrons, and our items flow out for others.  The variety is amazing.  Just this past week, we have received or sent items on a wide range of topics, including art, history, religion, science, economics, and psychology.  Materials in multiple languages have crossed my desk - English, Spanish, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, French, and Gujarati.  In addition to the novels, movies, music and children's books of all flavors, we have facilitated access to books on subjects as diverse as woodworking, philosophy, teaching methods, and real estate.  Practical matters like nutrition, car repair and sewing were represented as were academic studies like chemistry and medicine.  Our patrons are interested in everything from computer programming to learning Korean to politics and world events.  Without exaggeration, I am continua…


At times, I take great comfort in my capacity to be wrong.  My daughter regularly counted on that quality when she was growing up.  Often, my first answer to a request for permission on one thing or another was instinctively "no".  Mothers are protective of their little ones and wary of potential dangers in all things "fun".  But my daughter learned that if she kept trying, that "no" might eventually swing around to a reluctant "yes".  All children try this tactic, and many a parent has been worn down by a persistent plea.  If she had gone the usual route, however, I doubt she would have had much success.  Repetition, begging or whining would have broken on an unyielding wall of stubbornness and only strengthened my resolve.  But calm, reasoned arguments would always find a way in, and she could be very good at that.

     Often, the fears that prompted a negative response could be eased with logical counterarguments, and the simple demonstr…

In Defense of Fun Vegetables

Over the years, I have observed a kind of snobbery relating to forms of entertainment.  It is assumed that the only true or worthy art is in books and that classic literature is the height of that.  Modern works are, of course, less valuable than older ones because we've lost so much intellect, grace and elegance since those golden days. There are those who proudly announce at every opportunity that they don't watch television or that the only movies they see are documentaries.  The conclusion is that everything else is worthless tripe that could only be enjoyed by those of lesser intelligence than the snob.

     The prejudice even extends to those who guiltily enjoy movies rather than "cinema", non-educational television, or "lesser" literature like comic books or science fiction.  Often, they seem almost apologetic or ashamed when they judge their choices as the candy of artistic offerings rather than the vegetables.

     When people learn that you …