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— SJ

Two-Scoop Sunday

Recently on a Sunday at the Joneses…

I let Gamerboy and Sparkler come along with me to my favorite hipster coffee shop where I go for solitude (and coffee). Gamerboy played with the chess set, while Sparkler sharpened her colored pencils. They convinced me to buy them a croissant, so I broke it in half and gave each part of it.

Then I picked up a little bit of the flaky crust off the table and popped it into my mouth.

Sparkler looked at me quizzically. “Did you just put a pencil shaving in your mouth?”

Why yes, that’s exactly what I’d done. It wasn’t nearly as good as the croissant.

Since I’m stalled between writing projects, my creative urge finds other ways to manifest. Today, a quiet Sunday afternoon, I thought kind of randomly, “I’d like to make something. Like, sew it.”

I’m really not good at sewing, partly because I haven’t had anywhere to set up my sewing machine for pretty much ever. But now my brain got to work. What if I…

  • … moved the TV desk to the window to become the sewing machine desk.
  • … moved the dresser to become the TV stand.
  • … glued foam bumpers on the dresser top to keep the TV from sliding.
  • … got the TV and cable hooked up again.
  • … tested the cable by watching 46 seconds of Food Network, and remembered why I don’t care if we have cable or not.
  • … take a moment here to add that the only reason we have cable was so we could watch the Olympics, and haven’t returned the box.
  • … set up the sewing machine.
  • … stared at the sewing machine with all of its various parts and wheels and hooks and wondered if I remembered how to do this.
  • …remembered how to do to it. Thanks, Mom!
  • … sewed a cute little cloth bag.
  • …looked up “easy sewing projects.”
  • … found instructions for making a simple skirt.
  • … discarded instructions.
  • … take a moment here to mention this is another reason why I’m bad at sewing.
  • … found cute ruffly sequiny dress that Sparkler has outgrown.
  • … turned it into a skirt, carefully following what I vaguely remembered of the instructions that I discarded.
  • … accomplished my creative goal. I made something.

Writing a novel is way less work.

Just to round things off, today Bookgirl is wearing a cat-ear headband for no discernible reason; and Ranger is laid out on his bed suffering from a condition known as “eating a dang lot of popcorn while seeing Kubo and the Two Strings with Dad and Sparkler.” I guess they’re the nuts on our Sunday today.

When You’re Worried Because of Your Skewed Ideas About Sex

This article has a compelling title—When You’re Worried Your Son Is Going to Go Too Far. I usually ignore parenting articles, but this one got me to click through.

After I read it, I realized that it that really should be titled,

When You’re Worried Your Son Is Going to Go Too Far… Assuming you operate on the presupposition that unmarried sex is always a bad sin. Also assuming you think the woman doesn’t really have a say in whether she has sex. Both of which are kind of shaky presuppositions if you really think about them but fortunately a lot of people don’t bother with that part.

(I don’t know why people don’t consult me about these things.)

You can click on the (original) title to read the whole article. I’ll just pull out parts for commentary, which I’ve italicized.

The gist is that a mom wrote in saying that they taught their son to court/date “with a purpose.” It worked so well that he’s head over heels for his girlfriend and definitely “marriage-minded.” They’re trying to avoid temptation, but this mom can see it: sex is gonna happen. She’s standing there watching this disaster about to crash down, and she’s worried.

The writer of the article first replies that sex is “not inevitable.” And I agree. DJ and I waited until marriage; so did a good number of our friends. It’s possible to do.*

Not only that, but we will encourage our own children to wait. We believe that sex is sacred, a celebration between two people who have promised themselves to each other. For DJ and me, as Christians, it’s also a picture of how Christ loves His church, and therefore to be as joyful, pure, and selfless as we can manage.

Delaying sex until a fitting time—ideally, marriage—has benefits. There’s the plain fact that sex can result in a baby, even for the most careful couple, and it’s best if you’re already established and committed before parenthood bursts upon you. “Waiting” also teaches you to set boundaries and keep to them, which involves communication, self-control, and creativity. (I’ll spare personal details for the last one there. Nobody wants to know.)

I have many friends who didn’t wait, and it didn’t necessarily blight their marriage. Still, I’m in favor of waiting till marriage and I think it’s possible to do so. Just like the writer of the article. So far, so good.

She goes on to say that this worried mom should have an adult-to-adult conversation with her son. She adds, “If young adults are determined to sin, it’s very easy for them to do that, as you know.”

That was the first jarring moment for me. Determined to sin. But this couple isn’t determined to sin. They’re in love and their biology says to go for it, there are babies to be made! We can argue all day about the sinfulness of sex between a committed but unmarried couple—especially if we want to drag in examples of sex between two people compelled to marry without love. Actually, we can’t argue all day because I won’t argue.

But I will take exception to the idea that two people in love and edging closer and closer to sleeping together are, by default, “determined to sin.”

Moving on, the writer makes several points about what the son needs to hear.

He needs to understand that his actions speak more loudly than his words when it comes to love. “If you[the son] decide to have sex before marriage, you are in effect saying to [your girlfriend], ‘I care more about myself than I do you. I care more about satisfying this physical urge than I care about you being humiliated…”

This brought me to a screeching halt. I thought we were talking about sex here, but the writer has leaped to… rape?

I don’t think she means rape. But she shows her mindset very clearly here. There’s actually nothing overtly selfish about a man satisfying his physical urge, assuming his lover is doing the same with hers. There’s also nothing humiliating about consensual sex.

Unless, of course, you assume that unmarried sex is always shameful, that the man forces his desires upon the woman, and that the woman is left impure and damaged by his actions.

You are, in essence, saying, “I do not love you,” because love puts someone else’s needs ahead of your own.’” That’s not a good message to send to someone you want to marry.

How about, “I am consumed by love for you, so much that I can’t express it in any way other than us giving ourselves to each other.” While it’s not always advisable… as a message to someone you want to marry, it’s not so bad, really.

He needs to realize that this sin undermines his role in marriage. “God made you to be the head of your home and the protector and leader of your wife and family, especially spiritually. Having sex before marriage says, ‘As your spiritual leader, I will lead you into sin because I want to sin.’

Good heavens, we’re back to forced sex again. Is it out of the realm of possibility that she isn’t being “led,” but is running for the bed at an equally swift clip?

He needs to really get that it’s his responsibility. “Son, it’s up to you.”

It’s halfway up to him. The writer consistently overlooks that there’s another person involved. Even if it is only a woman.

You have to make a commitment here… you need to set some rules for yourself to make sure you stay out of temptation. You need to make sure you handle this time in a godly and honorable way.”

Whew, finally, something to agree with. I do love a man who takes responsibility for himself. DJ knew his limits and set his own boundaries, and never tried to cross them. I never had to be the one to say “stop.” At the same time, I knew when I needed to pull back and simmer down, and I did so.

We built a very steady trust during that time, which has lasted through nearly sixteen years of marriage.

But it wasn’t because we avoided having bad sinful sex before we were married. And not even because he didn’t “lead me into sin” or “humiliate me.”

It’s because we loved each other, loved God, and kept our promise to ourselves and each other.

I’d be pretty happy for all my children if that’s how they spend their adult lives.


*Neither the mom nor the writer brought this up, but what kind of timeline is this young couple on? Are they teenagers who can’t think straight? Young adults who obviously are ready to think about marriage? DJ and I got hot and heavy only a few months before we got married. It’s way easier to wait when you have a definite “get out of jail free” point.

Cereal Romance

cereal-1254389-1280x960Recently, DJ confessed a secret to me. He tried some of that Honey Nut Kix that we bought for the kids… and he liked it. I, too, admitted that I liked it. It was the closest thing to a “fun” cereal we’d had for years.

Remember the fun cereals of our childhood? The type that I think of as “Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs” (thanks, Calvin&Hobbes) and won’t buy for my children? The more we talked about them, the more I realized that I needed share these experiences with others. This is why God made blogs.

Twenty Cereals of My Childhood, In No Particular Order, With Editorial Comments:

  1. Rice Krispies –It really does “snap, crackle, and pop.” But it’s pretty bland. I used to scoop sugar on it, which settled at the bottom, and you end up fishing among disintegrating rice grains to scoop up sludgy milky sugar from the bottom of the bowl. Which, to be honest, was probably the only reason I ate this cereal.
  2. Honey Smacks – This cereal was oddly-shaped, like weird little shells you’d find at the beach. It always tasted burned. Every bowl I ever tried tasted burned. You’d think they’d adjust the recipe, but apparently standards were not that high at the Honey Smacks Factory.
  3. BooBerry – I actually ate this cereal only a few times. It was a companion to Count Chocula and Frankenberry. All are scary, but BooBerry was by far the most terrifying. All I remember is deadly sweetness and blue milk.
  4. Cap’n Crunch – My love of this cereal was legendary in our family. I ate pounds of this stuff. The golden buttery barrel-shaped nuggets were good, but then add the pink “crunch berries,” and, well, Heaven couldn’t even compete. It holds up well in milk, crunches nicely, is deadly sweet, and absolutely tears up the inside of your mouth. Really, this ought to have been the death of me in my childhood.
  5. Cinnamon Toast Crunch – This is really nasty cereal. It’s just awful. It gets soggy almost instantly and you’re left with cinnamon-flavored milk with squishy debris floating around in it.
  6. Corn Flakes – People really ate this stuff? You couldn’t even sweeten it because the sugar just slid off. This was the cereal that kids always ate in books. It didn’t really fly in fiction, either.
  7. Corn Pops – Not actually a bad cereal. I mean, it wasn’t Cap’n Crunch but it would do if your only other option was Raisin Bran.
  8. Froot Loops – Forgive the reminder, but this was one of those cereals that gave you a heart attack two hours later after it went through your digestion system and emerged green.
  9. Frosted Flakes – “They’re grrrreat!” said Tony the Tiger. His longer script reportedly added, “Eat ’em faaast because they have a half-life of about twenty seconds once milk hits ’em.”
  10. Cookie Crisp – The ultimate cereal. A kid couldn’t not want a cereal shaped like chocolate-chip cookies. It didn’t actually taste quite as good as it was supposed to be, but your mom bought it so rarely that you had to savor every bit of it for the day and a half it took to finish the box.
  11. Fruity Pebbles – Tiny, brightly-colored sugar bombs. You could eat heaps and piles of this stuff in one sitting because it was so small. It had the same remarkable effect as Froot Loops, as I recall.
  12. Golden Grahams – Not a terrible cereal, although suffered from Rapid Onset Soggage.
  13. Lucky Charms – Some people, like parents, said you were supposed to eat the filler part that protected the marshmallows in the box.
  14. GrapeNuts – Betrayal in breakfast form. This “cereal” is neither grapey nor nutty. They just named it that because admitting it was chicken feed wouldn’t sell.
  15. Raisin Bran – “Two scoops of plump, juicy raisins!” I never once found a plump, juicy raisin in my Raisin Bran. But I ate them anyway because they had sugar on them, which the flakes didn’t. I’m pretty sure that if I’m doomed to Purgatory, I’ll have to relive those moments of eating the last spoonfuls of brannish sludge with chewy, sad raisins in it.
  16. Shredded Wheat – The frosted variety is edible. You pour yourself a big bowl and splash some milk on it. Six minutes later, all the milk has disappeared. Instead, you’ve got twenty-eight pounds of soggy wheat fibers in your bowl. If you try to eat it all, you’ll die.
  17. Trix – The Twizzlers of cereal. It looked good and there was that catchy slogan (“Silly rabbi, kicks are for trids!” Oh wait. That’s the punchline to that dumb joke, isn’t it?) But the cereal was kind of yucky. Like Twizzlers.
  18. Wheaties – Did not turn you into Mary Lou Retton. But according to reliable sources, she was nice to look at if you were a boy growing up in a church with a strict modesty policy.
  19. Honey Nut Cheerios – A decent cereal. Tastes okay. Doesn’t get too soggy too fast. Not flashy, but it’s always there for you. This is the cereal you grow up to marry.
  20. Kix – I used to think this cereal was a spineless version of Corn Pops. Bland. Didn’t like it. Now, dang it all if I don’t like the stuff! It’s crunchy and, you know what? Not too sweet! In related news, I became a grown-up.

Sparkler is 10!

Today Sparkler has officially entered double-digits.

(Confetti, music, wild dancing are appropriate, based on Sparkler’s opinion of the occasion.)

In honor of Sparkler’s 10th birthday, here are…

10 Things About Sparkler

  1. She’s a better baker than I am.
  2. She loves My Little Pony.
  3. She’s writing a novel, and has about 7500 words typed out. She’s giving herself five years to finish it.
  4. Related to #3, she’s great at ideas, less enthusiastic about the details and day-to-day work of making them reality.
  5. What she feels, she feels entirely at the moment. She’s happy, she’s disappointed, she’s frustrated, she’s bored… and that can all be within the space of half an hour.
  6. She’s funny, and she’s sharpening the wit that runs through my side of the family. She’ll hold her own with her Southern folk in years to come.
  7. She’s been reading since she was four, so is full of facts and knowledge.
  8. If she thinks she’s right—or if she doesn’t want you to be right—she will argue for all eternity.
  9. She’s quick to offer sympathy and understanding.
  10. She is loyal and full of admiration for those she loves.

It’s been a good ten years of Sparkler. Happy birthday! We love you!


Now Playing in an Internet Forum Near You

I’ve been reading a blog dedicated to exposing the dark underbelly of a popular upbeat multi-level marketing company. I don’t sell for any MLMs and I rarely buy anything from them. But the blog was very familiar ground to me, seeing as I am involved in a truth-exposing circle myself.

The dialogue and plots can vary, but the basic cast of characters stays the same. If you’ve spent any time on internet forums, you’ve already met them:

The Voice of Truth. The founders of the blog, page, or group. They state their mission in no uncertain terms: Exposing the truth and deception* of Azure Blue Life Patio Décor.**

The Reporters. These people write frequent posts supporting the VoT’s mission. Sometimes earnest, occasionally snarky, and filled with facts and links to support their points. On Recovering Grace, I show up a lot as a Reporter.

Then we proceed to the comment section. That’s where the action happens.

The Cheerleaders. These are the people who always agree with the articles and have their own stories to add. “You nailed it, Voice of Truth! I, too, was sold on Azure Accessories by somebody who invited me over ‘to give my opinion on how she should arrange her patio furniture.’ Little did I know that she just wanted to recruit me. Six months later I was $3300 in debt and had a garage full of patio umbrellas that I couldn’t sell…’”

The Straddler. This person agrees with most of what’s said, but wants to bring balance to the forum by pointing out the good parts of the system. “I was a Turquois Manager, which as you know means I had eighteen consultants under me. I, too, had way too many umbrellas on my hands and was in debt. But I never pushed my team members to order more than they should just to meet our goals. Now I don’t try to hit any higher levels; I’m just in for my personal use.”

The Hardliner. This person gives no ground to the Straddler. “Stop selling umbrellas! There is no good to be reaped from this system.  If you’re still in, you’re enabling the wickedness and deception whether you personally practice it or not.”

The Factoid. This person has all the numbers, all the stats, and all the links. Did a Straddler make a sloppy reference to last year’s sales? The Factoid is there with devastating accuracy. “Even if some people sold the recommended 33 umbrellas per month, that’s still only $330/month, which is only $3,960/year before expenses, which is hardly the sky-high income we were promised.”

The Disdainer. “All of you on this site are lazy loosers. Stop being jealous of successful people and get a life.”

The Gossip. Need to know any dirt on any of the higher-ups and company celebrities? “I was at the annual conference and heard Cerulean Manager Tiffany Newton talk about how she got to the top of this company. But the truth is that she got all her downlines by running off her Cobalt and Indigo Managers and lying about why they left. No wonder her husband left her for his secretary.”

The Snarker. “Tiff Newton thinks that if she says ‘hydropower’ enough, people won’t notice her terrible taste in clothes and flabby arm skin.”

The Partyliner. Similar to the Disdainer, the Partyliner comes on to rebuke the VoT—but elaborates with familiar catchphrases and buzzwords. “Just because you couldn’t be true-blue to your sky-high dreams, you don’t have to drag down the rest of us who swim in the ocean of motion! Don’t just stand on the shore, jump in and get some real hydropower going!”

The Irrelevancer. This person posts long comments, usually a single paragraph, speaking forthrightly on topics that don’t have a lot to do with the original post. Sometimes they don’t even have much to do with reality.

In most comment threads, the Disdainer is good for at least seven replies, ranging from lightly sarcastic to downright hostile. The Snarker engages in meticulous spelling/grammar lessons, apparently assuming this discredits the other side’s points. The Irrelevancer is a rare point of agreement between both sides: everybody pretty much ignores him. Which doesn’t stop him in the slightest.

But the Partyliner is the one who can lure the Voice of Truth into the comment section. Those catchphrases and buzzwords drive the VoT, Reporters, and Cheerleaders up the wall, bringing on the verbal equivalent of a nuclear arsenal. Minutes after the comment appears, the Partyliner is long gone; but everybody else fires rockets, cheers the explosions, and coughs on the smoke for a while.

This is all a pretty familiar storyline. If you somehow missed this drama on the four million internet forums that ran last week, just stick around. It’ll happen all over again next week.

*This isn’t an indictment against any friends or family who sell. I avoid the people who feign friendship to get my business. My real friends are good about separating business and pleasure.

**I made up this company. It sells patio umbrellas in different sizes and patterns. Once you’ve bought your basic umbrella, you’re encouraged to buy matching furniture cushions (new patterns ever six months); charms to hang on the edges of your umbrellas (ten to a set, all sold separately, new sets issued every six weeks); and picnic sets in coordinating patterns (26-piece, each sold separately). Having trouble affording everything you need? Have you ever considered selling for Azure Blue Life? You get a 30% discount (if you manage to sell $400/month in products… you can always order a little extra on your credit card to earn your discount). Even better, work your way up through the true-blue ranks to earn bigger discounts, commissions, and probably within six months you can retire to spend the rest of your life relaxing beside the pool under your Azure Blue umbrella. (Not that I, your recruiter, am there yet, but commissions on your orders will get me closer!) Just pull out your credit card, and never stop reaching for the dream!***

***If you don’t consider your company to be one of these pernicious MLMs, then I’m not talking about yours. But replace the products with “spiritual” standards and promises of world-changing opportunities–keep all the suggestions to pour money into the company–and you’ve got the cult I spent my teen years in.

Two Books: Eighty Days, Steelheart

This month, I took a trip around the world (traveling East-to-West and West-to-East), plus delved into steel catacombs underneath what was left of Chicago. Take a look, it’s in a book… (Points if you can finish that line.)

Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman.


I first learned about the turn-of-the-century “girl reporter” Nellie Bly from one of the white-backed Value Tales books in my church library.


In an era where women still weren’t welcome in most professions, Nellie dared to become a reporter for the New York paper The World.

At age twenty-five, she declared that she could race around the world faster than the hero of Jules Verne’s bestseller, Around the World in Eighty Days. And she did, too: she made it in seventy-two days. She makes for good story material.

I’m also fascinated by that time of history. From 1880 – 1920, America saw astonishing technological advances: telegraphs, elevators, skyscrapers, luxury steamships, and that great conqueror of America’s vast landscape, the steam locomotive. We, looking back, scoff at what they considered amazing. But in truth, it was pretty grand, and Americans were pretty darn sure they had arrived.

So when I was casting about for something to read—nonfiction being my first choice for “a little light reading”—I decided to look into that era.

This book was a treasure of a find.

As I said, I knew something about Nellie—including that her name wasn’t actually “Nellie Bly.” It was customary then for women to write under pen names, and she took this one from a song by Stephen Foster, who also wrote “O, Susannah” and “Dixie.” (Don’t look up Stephen Foster songs. They’re gallingly racist. But very catchy!) What I didn’t know was that she wasn’t the only woman who tried to race around the world in fewer than eighty days.

Elizabeth Bisland wrote for a New York magazine, The Cosmopolitan. It might actually be the same one as today’s Cosmopolitan, you know, the one that has a metal shield to hide its cover on grocery store racks. It was, in case you’re wondering, a very different publication in 1889. Both The World and The Cosmopolitan saw the chance to boost their circulation, so the day after Nellie set off heading East, Elizabeth boarded a train heading West.

The story has an inherent conflict—obviously Nellie won, so what happened to Elizabeth? The women themselves made for interesting reading. They visited many of the same cities, but their impressions were different because they were so different. Nellie was a peppery, brisk Pennsylvania woman with just enough education to get her the fame she wanted. Elizabeth was a lyrical, poetic Louisiana woman, highly intelligent (she taught herself French), who only wanted to be able to support herself with her writing.

But the book is much more than just the trip around the world, or even the two women. Goodman is a fantastic author. He definitely passes my “stuck at a dinner table” test. He discusses American race relations (the Chinese were much feared and despised at that time; “Negros” were only a few years beyond slavery), technology, the class system, etiquette, food, and transportation. He takes everything from writings of the times, including the women’s opinions and reactions throughout their trip, so it rings very true. He narrates everything in a readable prose, choosing particularly interesting, illuminating details for his topics.

If you’re a nonfiction fan, or if you want to know more about the life of Americans (and other nationalities, as seen through American eyes) a century ago, I’d suggest you read this book. Oh, heck, I suggest it regardless. It’s a good read.


Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.


Don’t recommend stuff to me. No, I’m serious. Either I’ll like it and discuss it endlessly (see: Radio encyclopedias, Nellie Bly), or I won’t like it and will pick it apart mercilessly.

Occasionally, though, someone will try it and I’ll accept. My friend Swanson the Second recommended Steelheart to me. DJ likes it, Bookgirl likes it… I figured it was worth trying. I jumped in all ready to suspend my usual judgey ways and just enjoy the story.

Me and Sanderson, we go way back. I read Elantris years ago, and chewed it into little bits (figuratively speaking, in case you wondered). But as much as the writing tormented me, the story was great. Later, I read two of the Mistborn books. By this time, I don’t remember much about the writing, but I certainly liked his ideas and his storytelling. And it’s not like he has to care what I think, seeing as he produces a million published words a year.

So. I picked up Steelheart.

It’s set in a world where some ordinary people suddenly gain superpowers. Unfortunately, none of them goes in for heroism. They claim their own kingdoms, kill wantonly, and lay waste to the world. In what used to be Chicago, one of the most powerful “Epics” reigns supreme: Steelheart. He’s got an impressive catalogue of powers, including invincibility to harm, the ability to fly, energy blasts from his hands, and the power to turn non-living matter into steel. But every Epic has a weakness; a team ordinary humans who call themselves the Reckoners have dedicated their lives to finding out those weaknesses and killing the Epics. But nobody knows what Steelheart’s weakness is.

Eighteen-year-old David has two burning passions in life: to join the Reckoners, and to kill Steelheart.

If you read this book, you’ll probably like it. I’m basing this on the assumption that you’re not me.

This really isn’t a novel, it’s a TV show in print. All the scenes are constructed with a viewing audience in mind, and in Sanderson’s favor, he’s really good at it. You can see the dramatic pauses, the slow-motion moments, hear the theme music in the background. It makes for snappy action and quick reading.

And lazy writing.

Sanderson has two default techniques to move his story along: Exhaustive Explanations and Retroactive Justification.

Exhaustive Explanation is exactly what it sounds like. Sanderson’s narrator, David, chatters at the reader endlessly. In the first chapter, we spend three pages running through the steel understreets of former Chicago, while David explains the history, geography, and current social norms of his world. And he never lets up. He’s always there to point stuff out, or explain why somebody said something, or how something works.

A good example was this moment, when David is listening to a conversation between the Professor, or “Prof,” and his research assistant, Tia.

 “Jon,” said Tia, addressing Prof. His real name, probably.

See, I actually figured out it was his real name without being told. Either that, or it’s a special “thing” between Prof and Tia for Tia to call him by a different name periodically.

“Dave,” said Tia. “I found something odd.”

“Sebastian,” said Tia. “I pulled up those files you needed.”

“Sir Percival d’Courcey,” said Tia. “Please put your pants on.”

So David explains everything, all the time. I eventually wanted to put my hand over David’s mouth and say, “Shhh! Hush! I’m trying to read!”

Retroactive Justification was a trick Sanderson used a lot. It goes like this: there’s a problem with the story—something is implausible or doesn’t fit the world. So Sanderson tosses in a comment justifying that it really does work like that, and goes on.

For instance, all the characters, even the ones running covert assassination operations, use mobile phones. Which poses all kinds of questions about availability and security. So Sanderson fixes that by having David say, “I mean, everyone knew that the Knighthawk Foundry was neutral, and that mobile connections were completely secure.” Never mind that this is a city ruled by a supervillain who routinely killed people just for effect. He’s totally cool with having the only mobile-phone server remain neutral and not allow him access to their data.

(Just to make the problem even fixeder, David later mentions that actually the underground rebel band uses only private lines among themselves, not the public lines. Or something.)

But I was trying to shrug off these irritations for the sake of the story, which really is interesting. Even the fact that it’s a running gag that David is really bad at coming up with metaphors, when in fact every example was actually a simile. Or that Tia is always drinking cola, leading one to wonder how there’s still a soft-drink factory in operation. Or that another character, emphasizing her superiority over David, leans back in her chair and sips lemonade… lemonade, in an underground steel catacombs where they have to hide because they’ll be killed on contact if they’re caught? Who is making these remarkable supply runs? I’d think that would be an interesting story in and of itself.

But Sanderson outlasted my charity when he created a Southern character who used “y’all” in the singular. “Y’all” is a contraction of “you all,” and is always plural. It’s also not an obscure word; lots of people use it, and it’s googleable. It poked me in the eye every time the character used it, and I couldn’t take him seriously. Which meant I lost my battle to take the rest of the story seriously.

“Maybe you just don’t get Sanderson,” Swanson the Second pointed out.

Okay, granted. I lost out on a lot of fun because I was distracted by details like how Tia and Megan had such beautifully styled hair in this dystopian underground world. “Maybe not,” I said. “Maybe if I got him, I wouldn’t be confused when David compares himself to someone bringing bad shrimp cocktail to a party—when as far as I know, he’s never had shrimp cocktail or been to a party!”

Second replied, “I’m never recommending anything to you again.”

That’s a good policy.

And most people would probably like this book.

Mundania: Mostly SJ

DJ yelped as he started up the van and music blasted out. “What was that?

“I told you I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift!” I said. It’s not like you can listen to This night is flawless/ Don’t you let it go/ I’m wonder struck/ Dancing around all alone/ I’ve spent forever/ Wondering if you knew/ I was enchanted to meet you on low volume. Honestly.

This is what happens when you get butter smeared on your phone’s camera lens. People with glasses can relate.


My favorite thing to get at Dairy Queen is a chocolate-covered cherry Blizzard. In fact, it’s the only thing I ever get there because I can’t get it anywhere else.

I first discovered this flavor twenty-some years ago at the Dairy Queen closest to us, which was forty-five minutes away. They stopped listing it on the menu, but I always ordered it anyway.

One of my and DJ’s first dates was to that same Dairy Queen (because when you grow up in a tiny Southern town, you drive forty-five minutes for an ice cream date). I ordered the chocolate-covered cherry Blizzard, and I remember eating it while talking with this man that I’d pretty much decided I would marry.

Later, married and with a child, I discovered a DQ in my own town. I’d drive through at least once a week for my Blizzard, until baby Bookgirl figured it out and demanded her share.

After that, we’d stop there on our infrequent dates. About a quarter of the time, they made my Blizzard wrong, so I’d have to go back and explain the right way to make it: vanilla ice cream, dip-cone chocolate, and maraschino cherries.  After all, I’ve ordered it for over twenty years.

But this week I took the kids to DQ, and was informed—by a young employee who had no idea the blow she was dealing out—that the chain no longer carried maraschino cherries.

No cherries means… no chocolate-covered-cherry Blizzard.

I’m honestly crushed. A little bit of pleasure just passed away from my life. I’m going to miss that Blizzard.

This is what happens when you’re turning the corner of your hallway with a coffee cup in hand and you forget there’s still coffee in it.

This is why I still dream about my childhood creek, which is a thousand miles away from me now.



Bookgirl is 15!

Today is her birthday, but it’s not like she’d come right out and remind us if we forgot. She’s a deep well, keeping her own counsel on a lot of things. So she might casually ask what today is so we’d have to stop and think about it. Or she’d leave a cake mix out on the counter. Or she’d “like” a lot of birthday stuff on Facebook so it would show up on our feed. And when the hints took and we’d remember, she’d smile smugly.

She’s a big fan of Marvel—she knows practically any trivia about practically any major character. She developed her own trademark style—always a ponytail, always the baseball cap, always the denim cape she made out of a frumpy dress (except for church, when it’s just the ponytail). Somewhat to our surprise, she got my storytelling gene—but she channels it into quirky graphic novels instead of plain words on a page. She’s a good household lieutenant—she can take charge and oversee simple meals, but she doesn’t boss siblings around just for her own satisfaction.

She loves her bunny in the same undemanding way that the bunny loves her. And like the bunny, she has a personal space of about a fifty-foot radius; several times a day has to fend off affectionate siblings who alternately love her and like to get a rise out of her.

My guess is that she’s going to spend her day the way she likes best: drawing, reading, and browsing endless pages of Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook.

And we get to spend our day with our oldest, who (much to our astonishment–when did this happen?) is fifteen years old today.

We love you, Bookgirl!

She found this goose feather at Cumberland State Park in Tennessee, and kept up with it throughout our trip. Once back home, she fastened a pen tip to it and has her own quill pen now.

Reading Radio

20160612_161312I read The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning. It took me a full month, but I read the whole thing, from the A&P Gypsies to Ziegfield Follies of the Air.

Do I recommend it? Oh, honey, once I started it, I didn’t stop talking about it.

I judge a nonfiction book by whether I would enjoy being stuck at a dinner table with the writer. It’s a pretty rigorous test, really. Dunning passes. He’s obviously a passionate radio enthusiast, but for the most part he keeps his passion in check and gives a fairly even-handed description of each show. I would happily spend an afternoon with him.

The book was published in 1998—which is a lot longer ago than I think it is—so originally it must have been a wistful stroll through a lost era. Me? I live in the world of the internet. The first thing I googled was the opening entry, A & P Gypsies. And there it was for me to listen to. After that, I kept my phone in hand as I read. I listened to snatches of Gracie Allen and George Burns, Jimmy Durante, a soap opera called Mary Noble, Backstage Wife, a spoof quiz show called It Pays to Be Ignorant. I looked up singer Kate Smith (who originally had exclusive rights to the song God Bless America), found another soap opera theme called Poor Butterfly, and listened to Herb Morrison’s heartbreaking real-time broadcast when the Hindenburg exploded.

Now, it’s true, I like nonfiction, and I like encyclopedic formats. (Two of my favorite books, now badly tattered from frequent browsing, are The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg; and The Oxford Book of Humourous Prose edited by John Muir. Both consist of entries and illuminating commentary.) So you might wonder if this is really a book for you. Well, wonder no longer! I created a handy-dandy quiz that will tell you whether this is something you should try out.


1. “Old-time radio” means to me:
A. Back when there was no internet so you had to listen to whatever the station decided to play.

B. That’s when there were some actual shows, like Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, and The Shadow, right?

C. The great days of Jack Benny’s trumped-up feud with Fred Allen, the years-long drama One Man’s Family, and back when all the world loved Jessica Dragonette.

D. That was the golden era of writer/reporter Norman Corwin and playwrite Arch Oboler.

2. If I were to choose to listen to a radio show, it would be:
A. Music and news. That’s radio, right?

B. They had soap operas back then. They were probably less trashy than they are now.

C. The variety shows would be my thing—comedy acts, interviews, guest singers, and music from the show’s in-house band.

D. I’d have to find as much of CBS Workshop as I could, which featured original plays and innovative radio techniques.

3. What would I not be able to hear on radio at that time?
A. Swearing, sex, or violence. It was a purer time.

B. Women in any kind of serious capacity. It was a man’s world.

C. Something gritty like today’s crime shows.

D. Science fiction, except for a couple of exceptions; and fantasy, except as “make-believe” for children. Both genres were considered juvenile fare.

4. What was a controversial transition in radio?
A. Allowing black performers to have a voice

B. Shows devoted to blatant anti-fascist/anti-Nazi propaganda

C. Allowing commercials on radio

D. Going from live performances to “transcribed” performances—that is, the shows were recorded ahead of time and then distributed to the networks.

If you answered…

Mostly A:
Radio was once much more than the same twenty-six songs, commercials, and news in an endless cycle. There’s a vast world of drama, comedy, and music behind you. It’s very much a white world; nearly all the black characters were played by white men (even black female characters). But some writers voiced their concern over race relations and the plight of blacks in America even as early as the 1920s.

You are right that you won’t hear any swearing or outright mention of sex; but the innuendos are always coming. (Read that how you like.) Among the horror and detective drama, there’s plenty of violence. It’s not that people were exactly purer then, so much as there was a sharp divide between acceptable public behavior vs. private behavior. Radio maintained strict public behavior.

One way to understand who we are today is to find out where we came from. Radio was the life of the nation during the Depression, World War Two, labor riots, Prohibition, agricultural expansion, and the onset of Golden Hollywood. What happened then, what they talked about, and how they dealt with their issues is surprisingly informative when we look at our own world today.

Conclusion: You should read this book.

Mostly B:
You know a little about that bygone era. But there’s a lot more out there!

Men did outnumber women significantly (it’s frustrating to read the lists of important figures that are mostly male, knowing that females hardly had a chance); but some women held their own as performers or writers (not reporters, though). Soap operas were definitely a thing; they were born on radio. One network dropped one in mid-season, and outraged fans flooded the network with letters. They also wrote the big trade journal of the time, Radio Guide, and there was some interest in forming a listeners’ “code of rights” that would compel the networks to finish the shows they began.

(Ahem, Firefly, anybody?)

The soap opera storylines—while less explicit than later “daytime dramas”—had all the same trashy elements of a suffering woman, philandering husband, conniving rivals, accidents, murders, psychopaths, pregnancies, death, and as always, amnesia.

Radio weathered the US’s WWII stint, so pro-Allies/anti-Axis propaganda was an accepted thing. Juvenile shows almost always featured German or Japanese villains. A couple of adult shows devoted themselves to intercepting German and Japanese propaganda, airing it to the American audience, and rebutting it. You’d surprised by what you find if you delve into the world of radio.

Conclusion: You should read this book.

Mostly C:
Hey, you know some radio! You are right, it started out uncertain about whether sponsors could advertise directly on the air. That changed by the mid-30s, when commercials became standard. Not only that, but all the shows were named for their sponsors, giving them stupid names like The Carnation Contented Hour or Rudy Vallee’s Gelatin Hour. Of course, we live in an era of “Tumblr” and Buzzfeed,” so probably we don’t have much room to talk.

Our entertainment taste has changed a lot, even from TV to these days of binge-watching shows on the internet. But we can still see how those old radio shows shaped our entertainment today, from morning shows (“The Breakfast Club” ran nearly 20 years), to “Dr. John J. Anthony’s” relationship advice, to the old variety format that is still alive in the late-night shows. The old quiz shows of radio became the big game shows of TV. One thing hasn’t changed: our fascination with crime drama. Every fifth show on radio was a detective/police/FBI drama. Some of them, like Dragnet, weren’t heavily graphic but were pretty gritty at times. One show, Gang Busters, was “the noisiest show on radio.” It even became slang, “coming on like Gang Busters.”

I looked up Jessica Dragonette to see if she was actually, you know, real. Turns out, she was a very popular singer and host in the 30s and 40s, so much that when a sponsor downgraded her show and she left, fans wrote hundreds of letters in protest. By the way, back then people wrote letters at the slightest provocation. That’s how networks knew who was a big hit—if people liked or hated a performance, in came the deluge of mail. I try to resist nostalgia for “back when times were better,” but I admit, I do miss a world where we wrote real letters.

Anyway, you’ve got a good working knowledge of old radio. You’d probably enjoy learning more.

Conclusion: You should read this book.

Mostly D:
Wow. You know your radio. But in a 745-page Encyclopedia, you’re sure to find lots of new tidbits. Dunning devotes extensive space to the big favorites like Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, and Norman Corwin. He discusses the big move from print news to radio news and gives a “roll call” of the big names in radio reporting. He covers every genre of radio from juvenile “thrillers” to religious programming.

Reading straight through was like going from an acquaintance to friendship: by the time we got to the fifth Frank and Ann Hummert soap opera, Dunning openly disdains the couple’s trite melodramatic writing, and readers grin because we know what he’s talking about.

Occasionally he’ll let slip some strong emotion, such as when he reveals that the extremely popular and well-received show Vic and Sade is hard to find in good sound nowadays: “As many as 3,000 discs were destroyed by Proctor & Gamble after World War II, an act of corporate stupidity that defies forgiveness. … All we can do at this late date is hope that the space formerly used to house those wonderful transcriptions made some indifferent corporate bureaucrat a comfortable office.”

He condensed his mountains of research into concise, entertaining descriptions of the people and shows involved. The result is bite-sized discussions in a very readable voice.

Conclusion: You should read this book.

It’s impossible to retain everything I read, and it’s due back to the library now. But that’s okay. I’ll be buying a copy, and I’ll read it many times over.

You should, too.

P.S. I listened to one vintage broadcast in its entirety, Report on the Weans. It purported to be a radio show set 6000 years from now, when archaeologists have begun unearthing the “city mounds” that are left of our civilization, and the conclusions they come to about how we lived. It’s amusing now, but at the time when it was fresh, it would have been very thought-provoking. There are also a few of the jokes that I just plain don’t get. Anybody who wants to listen and then explain the closing joke, “Milltown,” I’ll send you chocolate.


My kids think I don’t like to read.

While writing my novel, I didn’t have emotional space for anyone else’s stories. For four years, I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure.

Recently, Ranger asked what a “bookworm” is. Sparkler named herself and her siblings. She also specifically highlighted DJ (who was once given the name The Book Beast, still applicable today). But she didn’t mention me.

When I pointed that out, Sparkler said, “Oh, I just thought you didn’t like reading.”

So I admit there might have been an element of overcompensation when I made up my mind to read again… and chose The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio.


Yes, I read the whole thing.

Further discussion to follow, so… stay tuned.