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— SJ

“Date with a Career”(a Mid-Century High School Story)

Once again I provide my valuable service to you as the person who blogs about books that nobody else knows about.

My friends Swanson the First and his wife AJ always send me a February care package. AJ is a wizard at finding vintage novels, and included one in my box this year. I could tell by the cover that it was going to be a good romp through the mid-century teenage American landscape:


I guessed it was from 1961. Actual publication year, 1958. Points for me.

I’ve read a lot of 50s and 60s stories. I think it’s because I started getting books from the library in the mid-80s. Our library was a small-town Southern establishment, so most of the books I pulled from the shelves were easily twenty years old. I’m well-versed in the world of wholesome high school kids who go to the movies, “get a coke” at the local diner afterward, do their best in school, and very earnestly uphold social manners and civic responsibilities.

Date with a Career did not disappoint.

We have all the usual characters:

Lee, the heroine. She’s a newcomer in town . She grew up moving from place to place with her actress mother, most recently in New York City; but now she’s spending her senior year living with her grandmother in the little Massachusetts town of Fairmeadows. Grandmother wants Lee to follow in her late father’s footsteps and become a concert pianist. But Lee doesn’t want to play the piano, she wants to be a dress designer. Thus does conflict cloud her otherwise sunny life in Fairmeadows. (Seriously, could you come up with a more precious name for a town?)

Jock, the boyfriend. He’s tall, blond, and blue-eyed. His name is Jonathan Bradford (good Massachusetts stock; Grandmother approves of him) but goes by Jock, which is kind of giggly because he actually plays saxophone in the school band. He asks Lee to the movies the first weekend. He’s annoyed when somebody else asks her before he does the next weekend. After that, he asks her to go steady. Jock is exactly the kind of boyfriend that every teenage girl dreams about. He buys her a charm bracelet with meaningful charms for Christmas. He’s sympathetic when the Mean Girl steals Lee’s thunder at the Halloween party. He’s on hand when she doesn’t get accepted into the New York art school, firmly refusing to let her give up on her dreams. He’s respectful, funny, and kisses her only three times the whole school year. In short, he acts like a 30-year-old man. Teenage girls always want a 30-year-old man, just in an 18-year-old package.

Janie, the cute BFF. She’s bubbly, a cheerleader, popular with the boys, and has a combative romance with the clownish Win.

Miriam, the somewhat poor, poetic BFF. She’s serious and loyal.

Sid, the off-brand boy. He’s not bad, he’s just not as handsome or courtly as Jock. He drives a hot-rod. Lee expects him to be a wild driver, but no, he’s in a club and they adhere to very careful rules about how to drive and how to behave on the road. He tells her so, sounding like he’s quoting right from the article that the author read about these clubs. Anyway, Sid is manipulated by the Mean Girl because she wants access to his car. But he ends up with the sweet poet, Miriam.

I get the impression that the author doesn’t know a great deal about cars, due to paragraphs like this: Sid seemed glum. No car is improved by being buried in the snow for a couple of days, and besides, there had been a great deal of strain on it, driving through the blizzard, even though the car had plenty of reserve power. Once it had been fed gasoline, however, it had started up without difficulty. No word as to whether it nickered or neighed and tossed its windshield wipers in a spritely manner.

Beverly, the mean girl. In her polished, wealthy way, Beverly loses no chance to squash Lee’s spirit. That notorious Halloween party that she ruined for Lee? Well, Lee had designed her own outfit — her first “original” — and Jock’s mother helped her make it. But the design leaked out beforehand, and when Lee arrived, Beverly had seen to it that the entire party committee was wearing exactly the same outfit. Oh, yes, Beverly was bad news.

Now, the author took pains to explain that Beverly’s mother was divorced and so involved in clubs and committees that she had no time for her daughter. (Never mind that Lee’s own father was dead, and her mother was an actress touring with a company in Australia. Divorce and social preoccupation is what does the damage.) Beverly associated with a “tall, dark boy whose slicked-back hair was too long, his sideburns too prominent. Under his black leather jacket, a pink shirt and splashy tie could be seen.” I guess I don’t even have to say any more, do I? Well, I will. By the end of the story, Beverly elopes with that boy. When Mother finds out, there’s a terrible fight, and Beverly drives off… in Sid’s car. (“Doesn’t Sid lock it?”  “Yes, but he thinks Beverly had another key made.”) She crashes it. So that’s how she ends up — in the hospital and in legal trouble

Not to  mention the fact that she was removed from the rolls of the graduating class because she got married. “That’s the ruling of our School Committee,” Grandmother says. “And I think it’s quite a wise ruling.” I’m not sure why. Maybe to be an example to any other girl who thought she could just buck society and go get married whenever she wanted to? Or maybe because Beverly definitely was having sex now and would somehow contaminate the wholesome virgin girls in her school? The author didn’t feel the need to elaborate.

As for the plot, well, there wasn’t. Just the usual episodes and events. Movie dates, Christmas caroling, cozy dinners with Jock’s family eating roast beef and apple pie, a school play (ruined by a blizzard), a second show (thought up and designed by Lee) that’s a smashing success, ice skating, and even a trip in to New York City. The author was not shy about dropping in moralization when she felt that the reader needed it. Parts of it read like a helpful and instructive “teen-age magazine” of the time.

Through it all, Lee grows to love and belong in Fairmeadows.

Lee knew that wherever she might live in later years, she would always want to be back in Fairmeadows at Christmastime. No other place could celebrate it so well. Everyone entered into the spirit of the season; everyone enjoyed it. Yet it was all very simple and natural. And noncommercial, Lee added, remembering big cities at the holidays.

Exactly. The whole book was basically a tribute to Small-Town 1950s Americana, especially being in Massachusetts where of course America was born. And that makes sense. The writer, judging from her picture, had grown up through two wars and the Depression. Now the 60s approached, with its alarming new ideas. It was still a few years before the world would go completely crazy, but people could see it coming.

It didn’t surprise me that everyone in this story was white. Absolutely no ethnic or black characters appeared at all; even Lee’s grandmother’s longtime servants were white. Of course, that’s partly because it’s the Northeast, where the black population was smaller. But it’s a characteristic of most of the mid-century “teen-age” stories. There just wasn’t really any room in this idyllic American picture for those who didn’t look and behave “right” — that is, middle-class and white.

So I hated the book? Oh, no. I enjoyed it thoroughly, partly because it was so very mediocre. And despite all, the author stayed true to Lee’s dream to be a dress designer. By the end, Lee has plans for her career firmly in place; and her relationship with Jock is only semi-serious. That’s pretty progressive for 1958.

The author bio on the back says, Theater and radio work in Boston followed upon graduation from Radcliffe College. Her subsequent marriage interrupted her career, although her interest in the theater still persists. She never said it, but I ended up with the impression that she might advise a young woman not to rush into marriage, but get some real good out that career first.


Homemade Waffles, Just Add Waffle Iron

When I get very tired, my mind overcompensates. It’s like a relentlessly cheerful BFF who thinks that all I need is to just get moving! and I’ll feel better!

This morning, I knew I couldn’t do church — I’ve never understood those people who say, “After a long, exhausting week, I was so glad to get to church! So refreshing!”*

*I’m married to one of those people.

So DJ took the kids off to church for refreshment purposes (??), leaving me sitting on the side of my bed. Thinking. Laboriously. What should I do this morning?

Well, obviously, I should get my laptop and head off to my favorite hipster coffee shop. Coffee, my own music, and writing. That’s refreshing!

But still I sat. Maybe not my usual place this morning. Maybe I’d head to a different coffee shop about fifteen miles away. This one served extremely yummy waffles with orange-zest whipped cream and maple syrup. They’re fluffy and substantial. Perfect for a midmorning breakfast.

And yet, still I sat. Maybe I didn’t want to drive fifteen miles this morning. Maybe I just wanted to stay home. I am perfectly capable of making my own waffles, if I had a waffle iron.

Maybe, chirped my over-energetic brain to my over-tired body, we can go to the thrift store and BUY A WAFFLE IRON TO MAKE OUR OWN WAFFLES!

I seriously considered this suggestion for about 1/45 of a second. And then I laughed and realized how tired I really was. If I didn’t stop my inner BFF , I’d be shopping all morning for specialty waffles, making my own butter, and possibly planting my own wheat.

Instead, I poured myself a cup of coffee that my husband made for me before he left to be refreshed (??) in church. I cut myself a square of the apple-biscuitish thing I’d baked last night (I modified this recipe in a winging-it kind of way with apple pieces and applesauce). And I sat in the empty house and played many solitaire rounds of our favorite castles game.

It was really what I needed. I felt very refreshed. And my inner BFF didn’t have much to say because her mouth was full of apple bread.

Mundania: From the Camera

We know how this goes. I go through my camera gallery, pull off pictures, and write captions. Y’all read and enjoy it. Really, I’m doing most of the work here — which is, I think, really considerate of me.

We have a bunch of blankety children. Hang on, that sounds a lot saltier than I meant it to. What I mean is, our kids love blankets. Most of them have slankets — you know, the blankets with sleeves — and wear them most of the day from October to March.

Pictured below: two children have emerged from their blankets, leaving empty shells behind them. One is still in his cocoon.


Not to be outdone, Cosmic loves towels. We’ll spread one on the floor, and he’ll lick, dig, and then flop. Here he’s sharing space with what was a cardboard brick, and is now one of his snacks.



As part of our usual February festivities (ahem), we all took turns getting the flu. I spent basically two days in bed. Which means that Ranger was basically two days unsupervised. He treated himself to a bath one afternoon. I found this the next day in the undrained tub: about twenty (clean) rags, plus four sopping wet towels on the floor.

Let them be creative, they said. It’ll be great, they said. I’ll clean up the mess afterward, they NEVER say.

(But Ranger was clean and happy, and I was able to rest and get well. So I’m not actually complaining. Much.)


And this made me laugh. The local volunteer fire department got a new fire truck.


My writer friends treated me to a birthday outing. We went to a town where Main Street has a coffee shop, a gluten-free all-organic cafe, a chocolate shop, and a consignment shop that sells used saddles and silk blouses. We browsed a few shops that advertised exciting discounts. But you know, 70% off a $190 vest just gets it down to a price I’d consider if I could knock 50% off it.

However, one shop featured this door. I think it’s a display for the different types of handles available from this manufacturer. But as I was taking a picture of it, my friend remarked, “Ooh, that’s cool. Each handle takes you to a different place. Which one would I pick first?” This is why I like shopping with writers.


Grocery shopping with DJ can be entertaining too. Here we found a basket of pet mangoes; somebody needs to come through and clean up their droppings. (You can tell we live with an animal who leaves pellets scattered about the house.)


This pinball machine at my favorite coffee shop apparently finds life perpetually surprising.


So there you have it. Did you read it? Did you enjoy it? Well, then, I guess my work is done.

Geology for Somebody Like Me

The way it started was like this. I came across an interesting article about evidence of a land where there’s just ocean now. The article wasn’t very well written, and I’ve got really big gaps in my knowledge of geologic history. (The Earth has got some big geological gaps too, but the Earth wasn’t trying to read an online article, so anyway.) I gave up halfway through, frustrated that I couldn’t quite grasp what was being discussed. I needed a basic overview of geologic history, written in a way I could follow it.

Where would I even begin to look for the right book? Well, that part was easy. I messaged Swanson the First. (Glance at First’s blog and you’ll see why I assumed he’d have an answer about a book.) He came through within minutes with a suggestion that I found at our library. I was reading it that afternoon.

It took me a good week to read the whole thing, and I’m pretty sure I’d completely bomb a mastery quiz about it. But I sure did enjoy it while I was going through it.

Bjornerud is a professor at a small college in Wisconsin. She’s obviously deeply interested in rocks and what they can tell us. But she’s also a very good storyteller. She inserts humor, wry asides, and even some puns. Even better, she’s good explaining her points in a way that someone like me can understand.

Why “someone like me”? Well, here’s the thing — I love rocks and I find the discussion of what could have occurred in the past to be very stimulating to my imagination. But I am not in the least scientifically-minded. By that, I mean that I don’t ask myself, “Why is the world like this?” Thunder makes noise because that’s what thunder does. Water turns to ice because that’s what water does. Molecules, atoms, isotopes… it’s magic. It’s all magic.

So while I want to know about Pangea and plate tectonics and I have a vague idea about subduction and marine fossils on the crest of Mount Everest, I quickly lose the thread of discussion when it comes to matters too small or too big for me to see. Bjornerud saved me many times by pausing and recasting her point in terms that I could understand.

“Someone like me” is also someone who came up through strict creationism. Not the creationism that flows out of a faith in God, so that a constantly changing and renewing Earth — no matter how it happens or how long it takes — is testimony to what he can do. I’m still that kind of creationist. I mean the creationism that sets itself up as the foundation for my faith. It says that if I consider any other point of view besides a literal six-day creation that happened about 10,000 years ago, I am crippling my entire faith.

(“They never say you can’t be a Christian if you believe in evolution!” No — not in print, anyway. They just point out that “even though it is not a salvation issue, the belief that earth history spans millions of years has very severe consequences.” Basically, you’ll get to heaven, but it’s going to be a pretty close thing.)

(And God’s probably not going to pick you up personally at the Pearly Gates.)

(He won’t send a fancy car for you, either. You get a moped.)

(Okay, I did add that part.)

(But for what I’m talking about, see this old article here, and this not-quite-as-old one here.)

Having left that strict, stifling creationism behind me, I now enjoy putting together the bits and pieces I know with what I’m learning. It’s all new and fun to think about. Well, “fun” in a “we are at the mercy of a giant moving, changing, reacting planet and who knows what will happen next” way. It’s astonishing how perfectly designed the Earth is to support life — not just us, but all branches of living creatures. At various times, the Earth has apparently undergone disastrous periods of extinction… only to eventually reorient itself and return to the business of making and supporting life. Far from injuring my faith in God, I’m endlessly fascinated and awestruck.

Me being me, I’m less taken with the formation of mountains and fossils of now-extinct creatures. Instead I wonder… what happened all those ages ago that’s now mostly erased from the Earth’s memory? Maybe we aren’t the first sophisticated beings to build a civilization and conquer the world, until the Earth shifted and buried them. What if it wasn’t volcanoes spewing carbon dioxide and methane into the air, it was smokestacks from some other ancient “modern” civilization? What if the Snowball Earth theory, when the Earth was encased in ice and nearly all life wiped out, was the geologic event that inspired the story of the Noahic Flood?

I’m not putting forth any of these ideas as actual theories. Just stories. Just a creative way to understand who we are, and — maybe a little bit — cope with the fact that we are very small and fragile on the one planet that can host us.

I can’t promise that you’ll have all these same thought if you read this book. (I’m talking about that book, Reading the Rocks, remember?) But if you’re at all interested in the study of the Earth’s past, I highly recommend this book as a friendly introduction.


A Rockin’ Birthday

About two weeks ago, DJ posted a note on my Facebook wall that began,


So I didn’t.

For the next several days, packages arrived in the mail or DJ came home from work with envelopes. All marked for my upcoming birthday. I couldn’t imagine what he’d asked people to send me. I felt a twinge or two of anxiety. What if I didn’t like it? What if he was embarrassingly, tragically wrong about what I like?

(Never mind that this particular birthday marks a milestone — I’ve officially known DJ for half my life. The man ought to know his stuff by now.)

My birthday is today. I was finally able to read that top-secret post on my wall:

SJ has a birthday coming up January 25. One of the things that she likes doing is collecting interesting-looking rocks.

I would love it if she got lots of cool rocks for her birthday. If you’re interested, could you send one with a little note about where it’s from?


The punchline, of course, is that I received dozens of pebbles in the mail and called my best friend to wail, “But when I said I wanted a rock, I meant a diamond!

Not really. The truth is, I think diamonds are boring. Rocks, though… oh my gosh I love rocks(That’s three different links to three different posts that talk about how much I love rocks, FYI.)

When it came time to open my presents, I put down the book I’m reading (I’m not joking)…

… and tore into all those mysterious packages to see what people sent me.

The rocks are lovely. But even better were the notes that my friends included with them. “The stripey rock is from Petra, Jordan, which is sandstone, and well worthy of being a tourist trap!” “In case you are wondering, I found your birthday rock right where the wallet was lying.” “This is sea glass from Cuba.” “This type of rock can be found EVERYWHERE in the deserts here… one even found a way into my puppy’s tummy late last years and cost us a small fortune!”


Clockwise from top:
*A collection of quartz, obsidian, and assorted petrocoolness (sure, it’s a technical term) from the JP family in Michigan.

*My kids’ gifts: a coloring book, a bag of amber-gold glass beads, and a small cat figurine from Bookgirl, Sparkler, Gamerboy, respectively. The fourth gift, from Ranger, was in the freezer at the time the photo was taken. He got me an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, and thought it was very important that I have an appropriately numbered candle:


I’m still a little startled that I’m 40. When you’re 20, you never think you’ll ever be as old as 40.

Anyway, moving on around the board…

*A small box of distant treasures from Israel and Jordan, from L & S

*An ordinary gray rock — accompanied by vignettes of the friends and neighbors one makes simply by waving and smiling at people on a daily walk. From OG

*Cuban sea glass, one of which is made into a runelike necklace by my very gifted niece, CR.

20170125_224912Want one? Contact me and I’ll put you in contact with her.

*Can you read the note next to these gleaming golden rocks? They aren’t rocks. They’re chocolate. My friend JR always does things up with pizzazz, and it almost always involves food. She’s one of the friends who broadened my horizons whether I wanted to or not.

*My brother sent me a collection of rocks that he, his stepson, and their friend stumbled upon during a kayaking trip through a swamp. I don’t have any other rocks that fit in that category.

*Before I opened this one from W.E., DJ said, “He has a good heart, anyway.” I was expecting, I don’t know, a hunk of concrete. Instead it was this rock from a beach in Delaware. You have a very shiny heart too, WE.


Two more rocks that I didn’t have at hand when I made my board are these two from the Very Very South. The rock on the left is one that TG picked up from the Rio Grande and mailed to me. Not even for my birthday, just because she knew I’d love it. The pink and black one on the right came from LC’s Arizona desert home. She added a bit of detail about their origins, which I’m somewhat familiar with because I’m reading a book on, well, rocks.


Thank you to my friends and family who made my birthday special. I received other gifts too, all of them showing that people really do know me and like me.

All the gold stars to DJ, who thought up such an offbeat and pleasing idea for my birthday.

And thank you especially to those who took the time to send me rocks. I was beyond thrilled. What I held in my hands–and I love how rocks feel in my hands–was a physical embodiment of the cliche, “It’s the thought that counts.” All these rocks had some kind of significance to the people who sent them. Small, everyday, significance of ordinary lives. My rocks feel alive with human connection.

I had a happy birthday.

It totally…

yes, I’m going to say it

… rocked.



Two Books: a Literary Society and a Glittery Rivalry

My mom told me to read this book.

I’d avoided The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). The title suggested a folksy, precious Southern novel in which Lina Ree and Pru run a bakery in the small town of Jessamine Hollow, where a cast of colorful and eccentric characters learns some valuable piece of womanly wisdom, expressed in dialect, by the end.

When I expressed my concern, Mom said, “Would I recommend a precious Southern novel to you?” No. No, she would not. She also said that the tone of the book reminded her of my writing.

I got the book out of the library sincerely hoping I didn’t hate it.

The premise of the novel: World War II has ended. In London, Juliet Ashton has found modest fame as an author. She gets a letter from someone on Guernsey Island saying that he’d bought a book of hers, a collection of poems, and would she know how to find more? He mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was originally formed on the spot to avoid detection by German occupiers. Naturally Juliet is very curious and strikes up a correspondence, and eventually makes her way to the island to meet this literary society in person.

This book has two layers. The top layer is a fluffy romantic-comedy confection with a loveable, slightly bumbling protagonist, two or three possible love interests, and a cast of  (see?!) colorful and eccentric characters.

The bottom layer is dark, dense, and sour. It’s personal accounts of what life was like on an English island under German occupation, plus a glimpse at concentration camps and the havoc that World War II wreaked on all of Europe.

That bottom layer is so difficult to stomach that it needed all the sweetness it could get. For that reason, I forgave the romcom aspect. If you happen to like romantic comedies, which I understand that a lot of people do (?), then you’ll probably find this book just about perfect.

There’s not a whole lot of plot, just enough so the characters have something to do (this is an approving statement, by the way). The real strength of the book is how it makes the wartime accounts into personal stories for the characters. It’s one thing to read about how children were sent away before the Germans took over. It’s another to be sitting with a man whom you’ve been getting to know throughout the book, and hearing him talk of his seven-year-old grandson being taken across the Channel to some family he didn’t know for some unknown length of time–and he couldn’t take his pet rabbit with him. (And the reader knows that the rabbit was most likely killed for food later in the Occupation.) The personal touch made the stories much closer and more real.

But because of the light and fluffy layer, the impact of these stories is gentle. It’s easier to grieve what happened instead of simply shutting down from the horror of it.

The “good guys” in this book all have comfortably progressive opinions that mesh well with our twenty-first century sensibilities. In fact, the only characters who hold opinions common to the era are a couple of haughty, shallow women drawn with all the subtlety of a black Sharpie. I did agree more with the progressive good guys, obviously, but was a little disappointed that the authors didn’t attempt a little more authenticity.

Although the Literary Society, Juliet, and her friends are whimsical characters whose interactions are only half-believable, they’re good company to spend a book with. I found this book enjoyable and would definitely recommend it.

Thanks, Mom! (Whew. That was close.)


Ask ME About Mary Kay : The true story behind the bumper sticker on the pink Cadillac by [Brown, Jackie]

Ask ME About Mary Kay (Jackie Brown) is one of those random book selections that make me such a valuable resource to you. If you ever get the trivia question, “Who was one of the first consultants ever recruited by the cosmetics company Mary Kay?” you can remember this blog post and say, “Some woman who might be a narcissist but is a good enough writer that SJ read her book.”

Jackie Brown joined Mary Kay Cosmetics in 1963, very shortly after its founder (named, coincidentally enough, Mary Kay) formed the company. By 1966, she’d split off to resurrect a competing brand, Beauti-Control. I’m a dedicated un-fan of any multi-level marketing, direct sales, or similarly triangle-shaped companies, so when I began the book I wasn’t Team MK or Team Jackie. I finished the book with the same opinion, only encased with reinforced concrete.

The first half of the book, which was noticeably more polished than the second half, introduced the reader to Jackie as she was in 1963: a widow with a daughter, married to a second husband, working as a secretary at a law firm in Texas. Jackie wanted to make lots of money, but that was difficult for a respectable woman at that time. She was also grieving the death of a baby the year before–unnamed at the doctor’s recommendation. And lastly, she really wanted a wig. Wigs were apparently all the rage among professional women at the time.

She answered an ad offering a free facial and a chance to win an expensive wig. That’s how she met Mary Kay, and was recruited almost immediately. Within two and a half years, Jackie was receiving commission checks of up to $10,000 a month. (That’s $10,000 in 1965 terms, by the way, which translates to over $50,000 now.) She’d struck it big.

But it came at a price — that being one of Jackie’s favorite observations. She was working 12 hours a day, recruiting and selling and managing her team. She got pregnant again and found out that there was a good chance this baby would die too. She didn’t have that extra family time that she thought she’d enjoy; she ended up taking her daughter Sharon with her to meetings and classes. But she and her husband, Ned, agreed it was worth it. She didn’t say this, but it was patently obvious that they got used to all that money real quick. When it came down to it, they were not willing to give it up.

Jackie meticulously documents every step of her journey from adoring fan of Mary Kay to bitter rival. She has remarkable recall for events and conversations that happened nearly 50 years before (… SJ said skeptically). She neatly takes credit for many of the sales techniques still used by Mary Kay Cosmetics today. By the time we get to the part where Jackie and her friend Marjie, along with their husbands, decide to launch their own company, the reader is thoroughly educated as to why Jackie was forced into it by Mary Kay’s duplicity. Jackie herself was in no way ambitious, treacherous, or faithless. It appears to be very important to Jackie that the story goes this way. And since nearly all of the other major players are dead now, I guess Jackie wins.

(Note about dead people: Jackie’s husband Ned is very involved in the story from the very first. He’s mentioned on nearly every page. Then we get to the epilogue, wondering how everyone turned out all these years later. Ned is mentioned with several others who have passed on. Like, in a list. His name is #7 of 9. Even Jackie’s best friend and business partner, Marjie, got a deathbed scene. But poor old Ned, he’s dead, listed right before the opposing lawyer in the lawsuit that Mary Kay brought against Beauti-Control. Apparently Jackie didn’t really like Ned very much by the end.)

Why would I even be interested in a book like this? Well, a few reasons:

  • Jackie is an engaging writer who can inject tension even into fairly mundane scenes such as being recruited by Mary Kay.
  • She provides very interesting details about the lifestyle, fashions, and expectations of the upper middle-class woman in the mid-60s.
  • She suffered the death of a husband, the death of a baby, hoping her daughter would be appreciated by a stepfather, and a hard pregnancy with a very uncertain outcome. As a woman myself, I was drawn into those struggles with her.
  • I’ve sat under charismatic and powerful teachers whose personal lives didn’t match up to their glowing public images — and heard them explain away the disconnect. In this book, I could see the same game being played out by Mary Kay, and by Jackie herself. It was therapeutic to read the account and be able to say, “I see what you’re doing.”


As much as I enjoyed her warm and personable tone, I wouldn’t trust Jackie Brown with an inch of my life. She seems to be just as calculating, deceptive, and greedy as she portrays Mary Kay. There are all too many people like them in the world, writing their books and selling their wares. But I don’t really admire them — the price they have to pay isn’t worth it.

Mundania for the End of the Year

It’s the last day of 2016, and what better way to celebrate than with a Mundania post? Because to be honest, this is what most of the year is.

For Christmas, Gamerboy got me a journal book.* He chose it because he liked the key design all over the cover. However, it also was printed with the words, “Prayer is the key that unlocks all doors,” a rather empty sentiment that seemed to suggest that the book was a prayer journal.

So since I really liked the key design too, I fixed it with gold foil scrapbooking paper.


Now it’s all ready to record my ideas for a D&D campaign.

*In the interests of equal time: Bookgirl got me a coloring book, Sparkler got me some metallic gel pens, and Ranger picked out a set of colored sharpies. They all done real good.

Last month, I browsed a quirky little shop after the monthly meeting of my writer’s group.

(Ha, I love how I said that with a straight face — “my writer’s group.” It implies that we get together to, you know, write. We don’t actually write. But in the five years that we’ve been getting together once a months, we’ve published two books, completed an online serial and begun another, had a baby, moved, relocated our meeting place three or four times, drunk a great deal of coffee, and covered a vast array of conversational topics. Sometimes we even talk about writing.)

So anyway, while browsing this little shop, I bought a basil-growing kit. Up till recently, I haven’t been able to grow anything indoors because I have nowhere to place plants so they get enough light. Even with this little kit, Ranger and I had to buy a table lamp to give it more light. But! Just look at my for-real grown-from-actual-seeds basil!


In a possibly rash act of celebration, I just bought a kit to grow mint.

The other day we got a light dusting of snow. Ranger (who was up first, as usual) wanted to make sure that everybody knew to look outside to see the snow. So he left this note on our door:


“Look out.” It works if you read it aloud, remembering that Ranger has Canadian roots.

The day actually warmed up pretty quickly, except in the shade. Here you see DJ’s little car, Ferdinand — and the snow patch that remained where Ferdinand’s shadow fell on the grass.

DJ is enjoying the last of his holidays by reading. Not that this is different from how he enjoys any other day. Apparently he’s going in for naval grammar dramas these days.


The holidays are winding down and winter has set in. One way that my mind copes with the doldrums of winter is to come up with ways to torture itself. For instance, furniture like this:


I found it in Hobby Lobby and actually looked at the price. As if there’s any way in this life or the next that I wouldn’t lose track of which drawer I put anything into, and drive myself insane opening and closing drawers to find it again.

My mind whispered to me, “But we loves it, precious.”

February is coming. Send chocolate. And sun.

It’s been a good year for the Joneses. I sold The Fellowship and published Go Right. We took an epic three-week road trip. Ranger learned to read. Gamerboy got taller than me, his voice almost as deep as DJ’s, and began leading his own D&D campaigns. Sparkler is an even defter hand at baking and helped cook full meals with DJ. Bookgirl, still my household lieutenant in everything from watching kids to cooking supper, wrote thousands of words in ideas for stories. DJ guided two kids into high school and hauled all four to church nearly every Sunday on his own. Cosmic the bunny defended his warren and his people against many threatening earbuds and shoes.

Thanks for hanging out with us. Here we go into 2017!

Mundania: Mostly Kid Stuff

We’ve entered a new era in our household. Both Bookgirl and Gamerboy are getting involved in activities where we drop them off, and it’s useful for them to have a way to contact us. Last week, DJ and I presented them with their own cell phones.

They’re just flip phones. JUST flip phones, right. They still do more than the on-trend phones that DJ and I started out with over ten years ago.


Bookgirl told me the next morning, “Gamerboy called me at eleven fifty-three last night.” (Their rooms are right next to one another; they share a wall.) “Good thing I wasn’t asleep yet. But I’m going to make him a minor character in one of my universes. And kill him off.”

“Don’t kill your brother, dear,” I said.


We all leveled up after the last D&D campaign, which means we gain more abilities. Ranger found out that his character, a dwarven cleric, could gain some minor magic spells for battle. He was pretty excited, so DJ dutifully assigned Shocking Grasp and Lightning Bolt to Ranger’s character sheet.

Ranger stood in the middle of the living room, locked in a battle pose, hands outstretched, palms up, gaze fixed in the distance. It wasn’t difficult to see what was in his mind. He was the strong, tough dwarf with a battle ax, a sword, powerful healing spells… and now jagged bolts of lightning coursing from one hand to another. I’m pretty sure he considers that he’s reached the pinnacle of coolness.


A nearby family with several teenage daughters recently hosted a weekend long “Winter Wonderland and Ball.” It amounted to a multi-night sleepover with a contra-dance ball one night. Bookgirl got to go; she even bought her own ball gown from a thrift store.

As far as I can tell, Bookgirl spent most of her time writing on her laptop while everyone else bustled around her. As for the ball, she got dressed up, danced one dance, and then went back up to the loft and watched everything from there. We’ve always said she’s part cat.

That being the case, she doesn’t show up in any of the pictures or videos from the ball. However, she did have someone take a picture with her phone. It’s fuzzy, but gives an idea of how lovely she looked for the one dance she participated in.

And she had a fabulous time. “I got tons written!”



Ever since we put up the tree and stacked wrapped presents under it, Sparkler has been dying that slow death of waiting that afflicts children this time of year.

“I can’t possibly live twelve more days until Christmas!”

“It’s still eleven days till Christmas! I can’t wait that long!”

“Teeennnn morrree daaaaysss…”

So far it hasn’t been fatal, but I’m afraid she’s got only a couple of days left.


Tonight we went Christmas Riding. It was much less bloggable than last year’s Riding, partly because I didn’t make any route suggestions.

We stopped by an Open House party at a church friend’s house. As we were walking up to the house, Ranger said, “I feel kind of uncomfortable around strangers because I’ve never met them and I don’t know what to say.”

DJ said, “Well, when we get inside, just say ‘Merry Christmas, thank you for inviting us.’ That’s all you have to say.”

We walked into the house, crowded with guests. Ranger said at the top of his voice, “MERRY CHRISTMAS THANKS FOR INVITING US.”

That taken care of with all the finesse of a dwarf with lightning-bolt hands, he sat down and helped himself to a cupcake.


This just in: Sparkler can’t possibly wait two more days.


Merry Christmas from the Joneses!

Flowers in Winter

I’m trying to grow some basil plants in front of my bedroom window, and the struggling sprouts look a lot like I feel. It’s not actually very cold yet, and we’ve still got some leaves and some green grass. But the slanted light is very wintery.

And so is my driving need to create something.

I’m working on a story that I think I’m going to love, but I can’t do that all day (darn it). For me, busy hands means a busy mind. I build plotlines or work through feelings that I can’t untangle head-on. Since I’m not in the mood yet for puzzles or coloring, I’ve turned to origami.

In general, I’m no good at origami. Precision isn’t a spiritual gift of mine. Cut first, measure afterward, try to make do anyway, make a mess — that’s my motto. But I found two paper-folding projects that were forgiving enough for me. I can make flowers!

I like to sit down on the floor and put on music, and lose myself in creating these roses and lotus blossoms. Bookgirl and Sparkler join me occasionally, and the rest of the family comes and goes around me. The bunny usually settles down within reach of me. For an hour or so, the world is bright and warm and satisfying.

Here are a few of the roses that Bookgirl and I created the other night:


My laptop sits with me because I listen to music on Musicbed, browse Facebook, and look up tutorials.

The “quilt blocks” below are what really got me started on this paper frenzy. I was researching quilt patterns for my story, and found very interesting ideas. I always want to try quilting until I read the instructions and see things like “measure 4.21 cm on the diagonal and cut with a scant .674 seam allowance, cut 547 more” that I realize that God didn’t intend me to be a quilter. I tried to reproduce Storm at Sea on paper and couldn’t, so settled for simple triangles and squares.

Then I stumbled on these simple roses.


Bookgirl liked making — in her 15-year-old terminology — “smol” roses. (Small. That’s what that means) She then decorated DJ’s shoes and announced that “Moses supposes his toeses are roses.” She knew she’d get points for quoting Singin’ in the Rain to me.


This lotus blossom looks really impressive but isn’t at all difficult. That’s kind of my forte. (Hand model: Sparkler)


So what will I do with my newfound talent? Maybe make gifts! Sell on Etsy! Or most likely create a dozen or so more, get tired of it, and not come back to it for three years. That’s how it goes. Writing is the grand exception. Oh, and also my family, fortunately.


Watercolors, flowers, and butterflies. Take that, Winter.



Books I Like: Holes, Secret Powers, and a Talking Mountain Lion

book-1760998_1280While DJ worked on supper, I worked on story ideas. I’ve got one I really like, but I’m handling it very gently for fear it will all fall apart before I can get it into shape. It involves a lot of unrelated items, an unexpected thread that connects all of them, and a woman’s train trip through loss to hope.

Wow, that sounds great. If only I can actually do it.

Thinking about how I want all the pieces to fit together reminded me of a book I consider a modern masterpiece of young adult writing: Holes, by Louis Sachar.

If you’ve “only seen the movie,” I’ll forgive you long enough for you to find the book. The movie actually did a very good job with the story; I enjoyed it thoroughly. But the book is what you really need in your life.

The premise is that Stanley Yelnats, whose family is perpetually unlucky, is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to the juvenile detention center at “Camp Green Lake.”

There’s no lake. There was, a hundred years ago, but it’s all dried up now. All that’s left is a vast dry lakebed, where boys spend the blazing daylight hours digging holes. Eventually, Stanley and the others figure out that the Warden is looking for something, and using them as the means to find it.

Meanwhile, the book flashes back to events a hundred years before, involving a schoolteacher and the black man she fell in love with.

Meanwhile, there are references to an old legend in another kid’s family about a man who had to break a curse by carrying someone up a mountain.

And there are poisonous lizards, onions, and canned peaches.

And the stories go along parallel to one another until about a fourth of the way from the end — when suddenly they all intersect, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle, each one illuminating the questions asked by the others. It all makes sense, but you don’t see most of it coming.

I was utterly thrilled the first time I read this book, and have never been disappointed by re-reading it.

(When I was in elementary school, I also loved Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School.)

Another young adult book with a plot twist that made the rest of the book fall into place is Hidden Talents by David Lubar.

This time, it’s Martin who is sent to a last-chance school for delinquents*, but he kind of deserves it.

* It’s not that young adults identify so strongly with delinquents that all the books feature them. This is just an easy way to fulfill the first rule of a good young adult story: get rid of the parents.

Martin is mouthy and knows how to push people’s buttons. But he’s not actually a bad kid. He soon makes friends with a motley assortment of guys who insist they’re falsely accused of whatever landed them there. One says he’s not an arsonist, even though he’s always starting random fires. Another says he’s not a plagiarizer and cheater, even though the reader gets glimpses of his schoolwork where he blatantly copies what his seatmate writes. Another is not a thief, although his room is stuffed with objects that don’t technically belong to him. It’s Martin who puts everything together and solves the puzzle. Well, part of the puzzle. Sometimes it’s easier to see everyone else’s hidden gifts.

I love both of these books because the storytelling is very skillful, while still giving the reader fun characters whose lives are worth the emotional investment.

(He wrote a sequel, True Talents, but neither DJ nor I thought it lived up to the originality and skill of the first one.)

While I’m on a roll here, I’ll also mention another book I read recently. I doubt I’ll do it justice. Kind of like Elizabeth Bennett trying to praise Lady Cathering DeBourgh, but Mr. Collins had to take over and do it properly.

The book is Covenants by Lorna Freeman.

It’s Bookgirl’s favorite book, and I don’t say that lightly. She she literally wore out her first copy. On our trip this past summer, Swanson the Second happened to have a copy in his library (why, yes, both Swansons have actual rooms dedicated to their books). He gave it to Bookgirl, who not only read it another four times before we got home, but has promoted Swanson the Second to the position of All-Benevolent Grand Bookgiver of the Galaxy. “We went to California and I got my favorite book!” she tells people.

She handed it to me this summer. I was very relieved that I liked it.

It features Rabbit, a soldier for Iversterre, a land which has no magic; his troop is assigned near the Border, which is populated by magical people and talking beasts. The farther you get into Iversterre, away from the Border, the more mythical all that magic seems. But it’s very real, and Rabbit certainly believes it; his own parents (in a hippie forsaking-the-world back-to-the-earth type of thing) left their royal lineage behind them and raised their children on the Border.

It’s a long, sweeping story that takes in royalty, assassination plots, dawning mage powers, ghosts, two clashing cultures, smuggling, spiders, ships, rebellion, elves, betrayal, evil magic, good magic, hidden identities, and coming to terms with the tragic effect of evil even when it happened a hundred years ago.

Bookgirl says it’s “really well written and Rabbit is funny,” and she has a crush on Rabbit’s commander, Captain Suiden, who is also a dragon.

I liked it because Rabbit is a very good man to spend a whole book with; he’s smart, but not arrogant, and he has good reasons for doing what he does. I also appreciated the way the author didn’t assign one particular race as “good” and the other as “bad.” There are bad elves and humans, and good elves and humans, bad talking animals and good talking animals, bad churchmen and good churchmen… it’s a mix. I think that’s why the book rings true despite the fact that one of the main characters is a talking mountain lion.

It’s a good book. Which is entirely too tepid a description for Bookgirl, but she’s not around to correct me. I’d called her in to help me with details, but she wandered away to read the book again.

Speaking of books — I can do this because it is, after all, my own blog — you should buy a couple of new books for Christmas! The Fellowship and Go Right are good reads, and different enough that you won’t feel like you got the same thing for two prices.

go-right-yellow-font-2-high-resolution cover

I didn’t set out to write a thousand words about books I like (or wrote), but I guess I’ll leave them up now that I’ve done so. I need to get back to my ideas about this story that could be pretty grand. But shh, say that quietly for now. We don’t want to scare it away.