Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:27 AM
As I mentioned in this post almost exactly a year ago, every December I make a list of The Best of Everything Important to Me. The categories change somewhat from year to year depending on how I've spent my time and energy. After considering what follows, I have to say that 2007 was my best year ever. That's saying a lot, since 2006 was pretty great.

Top Ten Books (new or re-read):
10. Alfred Lansing, Endurance
9. D.E. Stevenson, Anna and Her Daughters
8. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
7. Dave Duncan, A Man of His Word (series)
6. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
5. M.T. Anderson, Octavian Nothing
4. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
3. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
2. Henry Eyring, Because He First Loved Us
1. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners*

* So very brilliant, especially the title story and "Stone Animals," but dark, disturbing, and emphatically not recommended to my teen readers

Worst Book of the Year:
Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club

Top Ten Movies:
10. Enchanted
9. Premonition
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Simpsons Movie
6. Ocean's 13
5. Disturbia
4. Dan in Real Life
3. 1408
2. Sicko
1. I Am Legend

Still waiting to see:
Amazing Grace
August Rush
Becoming Jane
Elizabeth 2: The Golden Age
Hairspray
National Treasure 2

Top Ten iPod Downloads:
10. The Veronicas, "4ever"
9. A Fine Frenzy, "You Picked Me"
8. The Innocence Mission, "The Lakes of Canada"
7. The Bobs, "Synaesthesia"
6. The Dukes of the Stratosphear, "Vanishing Girl"
5. Saint-Privat, "Oh-La-La"
4. The Fratellis, "For the Girl"
3. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
2. The Shins, "Australia"
1. The Killers, "Can You Read My Mind?"

Top Eating Experiences:
6. "Steam Roasted Goose with Gravy," Our House
5. "Jamesie's Jambalaya," Our House
4. "Southwestern Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken, and Grilled Corn on the Cob," Our House
3. "Szechuan Dumplings," Shun Lee, NYC
2. "Frogs' Legs and Foie Gras Tempura," Picholine, NYC
1. "Poulet en Demi-Deuil," Chanterelle, NYC

Best Theatre Experience of the Year:
Richard III, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Best Concert of the Year:
The Wailin' Jennys, Tarrytown Music Hall

Garden Produce of the Year:

Patissons Panache Squash

Yarn of the Year:
Tofutsies Sock Yarn (It's made out of crab shells and soy!)

2008? Bring it on, Grandpa! It's go-time!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•3:22 PM
The sweet and multi-talented Candace tagged me for the "Seven Things About Me" meme. She's gearing up for the Storymakers' Boot Camp in March (she and Tristi are in charge); her tagging me is clearly the equivalent of making me drop and give her twenty push-ups.

Have you read Centipost? Eight is Enough? Ten More, Really? Or any other post with the "Dancing With Myself" tag? Then, loyal reader, you already know it all.

But maybe not. All right, Candace, I'll give it a go:

1. When I was at BYU and managing the Backstage Café, I went out once with one of the waiters, who happened to be a gun enthusiast. We went up Provo Canyon and did some impromptu target shooting (aluminum cans) in the moonlight. The guns I remember using were an AK-47 and some James Bond-looking pistol. Both kicked quite hard. If any of my kids ever pulled such a stupid stunt, I'd be tempted to lock him/her in a closet for many months.

2. I get many of my most interesting (to me, at least) writing ideas from my dreams. Last night, for example, we saw I Am Legend (which I loved, but do not recommend for the faint of heart). I then dreamt about vampires all night and woke up itching to write down every fascinating detail.

3. The correct plural form of "Perkins" is "Perkinses." For example, if you wanted to brag (or complain) about coming to my house for dinner, you would write, "I'm going to the Perkinses' house for fondue tomorrow night." (Of course you are all invited.)

4. The kids and I use Eco-Dent tooth powder instead of toothpaste. The cinnamon flavor is the best, though the mint and lemon-lime are also popular choices. Eco-Dent is unfortunately not paying me for this endorsement.

5. One snack I love is canned fruit cocktail packed in 100% juice. Yummy: I think I'll go get some right now.

6. I think it's going to take me at least another year to knit down my stash. I made great progress in 2007, but I still have a Rubbermaid tub full of yarn to be used. So many projects; so little time....

7. I'm expecting our sixth child. S/he is due on or around June 15th. We're all very excited, and so far, this has been my easiest pregnancy ever. How's that for some news? Thanks, Candace, for providing an easy format for our announcement.

Since almost no one responded to my last meme tag, I'm not going to tag anyone this time. But if you would like to do this meme yourself, consider yourself "it" and go for it. I'm also officially declaring myself meme-immune for the next six weeks; it will take me at least that long to accumulate more randomness.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•3:16 PM
Last night we hosted our annual church Christmas Open House; we had about 70 people show up with lots of holiday treats to share, and everyone seemed to have a grand time. The highlight for me was lighting the candles on our Christmas tree and singing carols with all of our friends. There's nothing like the sound of that many voices to fill up your living room; it was glorious.

I went to bed happily exhausted, mentally running through the next hurdles on our Christmas journey. All the presents wrapped: check. Food items to bring to the in-laws' house on Christmas Day afternoon: check. I looked forward to the fact that Christmas Eve would be just the family, with maybe some quiet games, a puzzle, and a movie or two to while away the peaceful hours while Patrick completes his annual Christmas Eve Day Manhattan shopping extravaganza with a couple of old friends.

Suddenly I realized that I had no plan for Christmas Eve dinner. What to fix? Nary a clue. Patrick jokingly suggested hot dogs, but I was officially stumped. I decided that I would figure it out in the morning.

This morning I pulled out my trusty copy of The Way to Cook, knowing that Julia Child would give me guidance. I flipped through many tasty options: Designer Duck, Beef Wellington, Lobster Thermador, etc., but I kept coming back to the Steam-Roasted Goose page.

Goose: of course. What could be more Dickensian? Julia recommends steam-roasting for duck and goose in order to render out a lot of the fat that lies just under the skin of these particular birds. It sounded pretty straightforward. Sous-chef James and I set out together to Adams, the Hudson Valley's gourmet supermarket, to see what we could find. I had a rough Plan B in mind--Oyster Bisque--in case there was no goose to be found.

But there was! She was an eleven-pound, free-range, all-natural lovely from Whetstone Farm in Indiana. The only wrinkle was that she was frozen solid. James and I decided to gamble that we could do a quick hot-water bath defrost to have the bird ready for go-time. We put her in the sink at about 11:00 a.m. 2:20 p.m. The goose is thawed, praise all the saints. Julia recommends some preliminary surgery to make post-roasting carving easier; I remove the wishbone, cut off the wings at the elbows, and dislocate the remaining stumps. Then I dislocate the legs and truss the bird as directed. I know the goose is too long for my covered roasting pan (a necessary accessory for steam-roasting), so I bone the legs. I've boned a duck while leaving the skin intact for a pate recipe before, so I know it wouldn't be hard to bone the legs, tie off the stumps, then break the bones and remove them. Here she is, all ready to go. No, your eyes do not deceive you, knitters. I ran out of kitchen twine, so our girl is trussed with some Sugar n' Cream cotton yarn in the Arc-en-Ciel colorway:
Houston, we have a problem. Even with the leg bones removed, our girl is too long for the roasting pan. I remove the tail, hoping to cross the legs into the vacated space; she still doesn't quite fit.

Radical idea: I butterfly the goose. I've butterflied many a chicken and every turkey we've roasted for the past five years; I know that this is a space-saving solution. But will it work for a goose? Only time will tell. It won't be the picture-perfect Cratchit goose at this point, but hopefully it will taste good.

4:04 p.m. The house smells great. The goose is done steaming on the stove top; I take her out to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the neck and other discarded parts have been roasting and are now simmering to make the stock for the gravy. My sister Stephanie calls from Utah; she's deglazing her turkey pan and thinking of me (in our family, that's a compliment). We have a nice chat until I've done everything I can do one-handed; I regretfully ring off and get back to work.

Now the goose needs to braise in the oven breast down (she steamed breast up). I pour off the steaming liquid; look how much fat we've rendered out so far. That's all golden goodness to be saved for Fabulous Dishes Future. I put the fat in a jar and pour a bit of the steaming liquid back into the roasting pan along with some white wine. The rest of the steaming liquid goes into the stock.

I saute a carrot, a celery stalk, and an onion in some goose fat, then put these aromatic vegetables in and around the goose with a sprinkling of thyme. After a double layer of heavy-duty foil and the lid, she's ready to go back in. I add a couple of blocks of soapstone on top of the lid to help keep the braising liquid in.

5:03 p.m. I think we'll be eating closer to 7:00 than our usual 6:00. No matter; I've got veg and dip and Brie and crackers to stave off the masses in the meantime. Now it's time to get everything else ready: blanched, sautéed green beans, roasted beets, and mashed potatoes. If I have time, I'll make a salad as well.

5:40 p.m. It's good that we're eating late; Patrick is just now leaving the City. The goose is done braising now; she's breast up again and entering the final browning stage. This should take about another half hour.

6:06 p.m. Ahh, there's nothing like dismembering an animal, then cutting up raw beets to make a girl feel like Sweeney Todd. And at the risk of sounding like M. Stewart, I have to say that having two ovens is a Good Thing. The beets are roasting, the goose is browning. The potatoes are boiling, and the blanched green beans are waiting for their sauté in butter and finely chopped onion. So far, so good. Knock on some wood for me, would you?

6:11 p.m. The goose, while smelling fine and having arrived at the proper temperature, is not brown. I've taken off the lid and I'm giving her another ten minutes.

7:18 p.m. Success. The breast meat was slightly dry (perhaps brining next time would fix that), but the legs were tender and delicious. The meat is very rich, as is the gravy; a little goes a long way. The rest of the meal turned out great; everybody gobbled it down in a hurry. I would definitely make goose again.

"There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Edged out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows." -- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

God bless us, everyone!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:27 AM
But first, look at the cake Hope decorated last night at the church's Activity Night! Her great-grandmother would be so proud; we certainly are. Many thanks to fondant genius Shona for making this activity possible.

Here are some talks Daniel and I have had in the past few days:
Me: Daniel, what do you think Santa will bring you?
Daniel: A green candy cane!
Me: Anything else?
Daniel: Umm...a red candy cane?
***
Daniel: Mom, can we make some dangerbread cookies?
Me: Do you mean gingerbread cookies?
Daniel (enunciating carefully): No, Mom. Dangerbread.
Me: Uh, sure, honey.
***
Daniel (looking at a Nativity picture book): There's Baby Jesus.
Me: That's right.
Daniel: Is that Elizabeth?
Me: No, that's her cousin, Mary.
Daniel (closing the book): The. End. Mom, is that heavenly ever after?
Me (misting over): Yes, sweetie. It is.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:30 AM
I'm sure you'll remember in the movie Elf, when Buddy says, "Santa's coming! Oh, my gosh--Santa! I know him! I know him!"

Yeah--that was pretty much my reaction this morning as I watched the video that follows this post. Patrick and I were there at the world premiere of the opera (on my birthday in 2005), so it was both a thrill and a fond reminiscence to watch it again.

It's a short scene from a gorgeous opera called The Book of Gold. I know the composer (Murray Boren) and the librettist (Glen Nelson); I know the soprano singing the role of Emma Smith (Metropolitan Opera star Jennifer Welch Babidge) and the baritone singing the role of Joseph Smith (her real-life husband, Darrell Babidge). Oh, the stories I could tell you about these four. They are all astonishingly talented people, and I feel blessed to call them friends.

If you have a spare 6.5 minutes, watch the video; I can almost guarantee it will give you chills.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:26 AM

Author: Luisa Perkins
•1:18 PM
Josi, author of the great suspense novel Sheep's Clothing, has tagged me for the 10 Random Facts meme. I think memes are great fun, but in preparation for answering this one, I had to go back and scan all of my previous meme posts (tagged "Dancing with Myself," in case you were wondering), because I've done a few of these in the year I've been blogging regularly, and I hate the thought of repeating myself. After reading them over, I'm convinced that any regular reader of this blog knows just about everything there is to know about me. But let's try to scrape the bottom of the barrel and see what we find:

1. In my opinion, bell peppers besmirch, befoul, and generally ruin anything and everything they touch.

2. Geniuses I admire include Alice Waters, Rhonda Vincent, and Abu-Rayhan al Biruni.

3. I've committed to reading The Bible in 90 days as of January 2nd along with Pezmama (who explains the program beautifully in this post) and some other fine people. Let me know if you'd like to join us; there's room in the group at the moment.

4. I like the thermostat in my car to read either '68,' '70,' or '72.' Odd numbers in digital temperature readouts (except for numbers ending in '5') really bug me.

5. I'm a big fan of the Harvard comma.

6. I can't wait to see I Am Legend. And not just for Will Smith's much-touted pull-up scene, either (though I won't be averting my eyes).

7. I don't like extra virgin olive oil; I find its strong taste overpowering most of the time. I prefer regular olive oil. Or butter.

8. Half-finished books in a pile beside my bed include James Dashner's The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters; Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners; Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook; Fred Hoyle's October the First is Too Late; Kim Stanley Robinson's Sixty Days and Counting; and Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop. I plan to finish all of these by the end of the year.

9. There are other half-finished books in my pile, but one I know I won't be finishing this year is Remembrance of Things Past. I do plan to finish re-reading it eventually, and maybe someday even updating my poor, neglected second blog, Tea and Madeleines. But that will have to wait until after the 25th.

10. This is the first year I've been successful at keeping a list of all the books I've read. I've tried this for many years, but I usually start forgetting to write them down by about March. I've read 59 as of today; if I finish the six listed above, I'll be up to 65. My goal for the year was 80. Oh, well; maybe next year.

Now I must tag 10 of you. Shall we go with Alice, Torie, Mary, Goofball, Jon, Kim, Brillig, Anjmae, Jenna, and Catherine? Do let's.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:24 AM
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:23 AM
Back in November, Jen at A2eatwrite was interviewed, then offered to pay forward the favor to any of her readers. Since Jen and I have this hopefully long-term mutual adoration thing going on, I immediately volunteered myself, promising that I would answer her interview questions after November was over. She immediately came up with some good ones for me; here they are, along with my responses.

1. You seem like a very self-disciplined person: how do you fit your writing into your daily life?

Oh, Jen. So sorry to disappoint, but the sad fact is that I am as lazy as the day is long. A self-disciplined person wouldn't have a desk, a perennial border, and an ironing/sock-matching basket that look like mine.

As far as the writing goes, it's all about choices. I have come to terms with the fact that I can't do everything I want to do; I only have time to do the things I want to do most. My 'mosts' can vary from day to day, but writing is nearly always at the top of the list (ironing, weeding, and de-cluttering are consistent low rankers).

I write in the mornings while Daniel is playing or in the early afternoons while he is napping. In a good week, I can write three or four hours per day, five days per week. But that doesn't always happen.

I write very well in the evenings, but those are usually devoted to Patrick and the kids instead. An exception to that is Tuesday nights, when Patrick takes the older kids to the church for youth activity night. Once the two little kids are in bed at 7:00 p.m., I have three whole hours to myself to blaze away on my laptop. Tuesday nights are usually very productive for me.

2. When you have free time with your family, what do you all like to do? (Other than heat the whole neighborhood?)

We do excel at heating and cooling the whole neighborhood. But we make our own fun in lots of other ways, too. We love to put on loud music and dance around the house, lip syncing and playing air guitar all the while. We read aloud. We play games like Carcassonne and The Great Dalmuti.

All this year, we've sat down together as a family once a week and worked our way through the original Star Trek series on DVD; hopefully Santa has something else in mind for us this year, because we are almost through the lot, and this has been a lot of fun. We also like to take walks in the Greenbelt behind our house, along Foundry Creek to the Civil War Foundry archaeological dig, then on beyond to Constitution Marsh. We love going to the City together, but we don't do it nearly often enough.

Before, during, and/or after nearly all these activities, we strive to uphold the Perkins Family Motto, which is "Perkinses eat a lot." Cooking and eating are two of our favorite pastimes.

3. Who is the biggest influence on you as a writer and who is the biggest influence on you as a cook?

As a writer, I count two great authors as my biggest influences: Louisa May Alcott and Madeleine L'Engle. Alcott's writing experiences, as fictionalized in her character Jo, have been inspiring me since I first read Little Women when I was about eight. I read Jo's publishing adventures over and over and thought, "That is what I want to do."

I had the great privilege of meeting Madeleine L'Engle twice, hearing her speak at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine once, and seeing her around our mutual Manhattan neighborhood countless times before we left the City and she left this mortal realm. What a great woman. She completely belied the stereotype of the tortured artist; she found her life supremely fulfilling, and her joy in it was infectious. I love her fiction, but it is her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art I re-read most often.

As a cook, I have had two huge influences: my Grandma Ybright and Julia Child. My grandmother taught me that the time and energy put into cooking from scratch were an expression of love and gratitude. She also taught me to savor the joys of fresh, high-quality ingredients cooked and served simply. When anyone complimented her cooking, she would scoff good-naturedly, "Anyone who can read can cook."

When Patrick and I got married, my mom gave us a copy of Julia Child's The Way to Cook; it is the most-used cookbook on my shelf nearly 18 years later. Julia took what Grandma taught me (haste makes waste; keep it simple; butter and cream make everything better) and extended it to a whole new level.

4. What is the part of your religious life that you love the most?

Such a good question, Jen; I spent a lot of time pondering it. I love most having the sure knowledge that God is mindful of all His many children, that He has a great plan for my life and yours, and that all my experiences-- painful, tedious, or wonderful--work together for my good. This knowledge brings me peace in my darkest moments of doubt or despair. Just this morning, the family and I read one of my favorite passages of scripture, Hebrews chapter 11. Verses 13-16 read:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Ah, my poor kids. It's so embarrassing for them that those verses make me cry every time. Even typing them gets me more than a little choked up; they express so beautifully how I feel about my faith.

Thanks, Jen! If any of you other blogging folk would like me to come up with four interview questions for you, let me know; I'd be happy to pass on the love.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:05 AM
We got this handy-dandy snowball maker a couple of Christmases ago for the kids; it works great. But Daniel has discovered an additional use for it. He runs around the house, scissoring the device open and shut in a syncopated rhythm. Guess what it sounds like.

That's right: two coconut shells being clapped together.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:21 PM
True confession: I own over forty Christmas CDs. That may seem excessive to some; this I acknowledge. Whenever I feel tempted to judge someone for his/her shoe fetish or other acquisitive hobby, I remember my drawer of Christmas CDs and realize that I live in a glass house. I'd be hard pressed to give up any of my CDs, but if forced at knife point, I would whittle the collection down to the following ten (not in any particular order).

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas
No, Mariah's not my favorite person; I wouldn't want to be her pen pal, or anything. But this album is genius. Brace yourself: I can only abide the songs "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" as sung by two people; Mariah is one of them. (Who is the other? Read on.) I defy you to be in a bad mood after listening to "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child."

Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition
This album would still be worth its weight in gold if it boasted only the four tracks sung by Thomas Young. His butter-rich tenor voice on "Rise Up, Shepherd" and "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child" gives me chills each and every time.

Handel's Messiah--Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Choir
After many long years, my quest for the perfect recording of Messiah has ended. For a time The Academy of Ancient Music's version worked okay, and Leonard Bernstein's recording with the New York Philharmonic has considerable (if quirky) charm.

But these days I'm blessed to be friends with a member of the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Choir, and she gave me this CD a couple of years ago. Rilling is a stickler for diction and precision; his discernment and discipline serve the intricate counterpoint of Handel's masterpiece beautifully. Thomas Quasthoff, one of my favorite singers in all the world, is the glorious bass. And soprano Sibylla Rubens's cadenza at the end of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth": unqualified perfection.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie/Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Oh, how I love my Ralph. He is to Christmas music what Dickens is to Christmas literature.

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Otherworldly. Transfixing. Gorgeous.

Stephen Cleobury and The Choir of King's College, Cambridge: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
There is nothing more satisfying to my rampant anglophilia than this double CD. Highlights include "Riu, Riu Chiu," Thomas Adès's "The Fayrfax Carol," Boris Ord's "Adam Lay Ybounden," and David Humphries's reading of The Fourth Lesson.

Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas
Though at times I enjoy me some Bing and Nat, some Donny and some Harry, I'm not really much for secular Christmas songs in general. This album is an exception; Lady Ella can do no wrong. The purity of her tone, her flawless style: she slays me. I can only hope that if I'm very, very good, in the next life I'll be able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald.

John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas
I've loved this album since I was about ten. John Denver's crystal-clear voice and gentle guitar arrangements are infinitely soothing. He's the only other person who, when he sings "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night," makes the experience enjoyable rather than mind-rendingly torturous for me.

The John Rutter Christmas Album
John Rutter has been writing and arranging brilliant Christmas carols for decades; he is surely one of Britain's national treasures. He conducts The Cambridge Singers and The City of London Sinfonia on this CD, a compilation of many of his best-known compositions. A favorite of all in this house is "The Donkey Carol," written in 5/4 time to symbolize Mary's bumpy ride to Bethlehem.

Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort: The Promise of Ages
Andrew Parrott rocks my world. Who else could weave together an album of carols spanning 600 years into a cohesive whole? The Consort goes from ethereal to rollicking with nary a blink. Favorites include "I Wonder as I Wander," "Staines Morris," and "Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending." Can't get enough.

Here's my Christmas wish: for Brian Stokes Mitchell to release a Christmas album next year. I actually just went to his website and sent him an email with that very request. Just color me fannish, 'cause I'm crazy like that.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:34 AM
The Annunciation, John Waterhouse (1849-1917)


The Annunciation

The angel and the girl are met,
Earth was the only meeting place,
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.

See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other's face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He's come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way
That was ordained in eternity.
Sound's perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

- Edwin Muir, 1887-1959
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:01 AM
I love my blog friends; I think about you more frequently than perhaps you would like. But there are only two of you that have appeared in my dreams (so far). Oddly enough, one of these two has dreamed about me as well. Stephen King-influenced mystical type that I am, I tend to pay attention to these kinds of things.

Dawn of Colours of Dawn is one of these dream co-stars; the other is her husband, "yarn magnate" Sirdar. In honor of them, above are the colors of my dawn just this morning.

I first noticed Dawn and Sirdar hanging about making astute and witty comments on Radioactive Jam's blog, but it wasn't until I dreamed about them

all I remember is that we were on some 'team' together, fighting evil by the light of Victorian gaslamps; it was all very Neil Gaiman-esque

that I took myself their way to visit. What a couple of treats. Dawn and Sirdar are the parents of four kids; they live on acreage in Alberta, Canada. They homeschool, garden on a large scale, and host fabulous-looking events like pig roasts for their friends and family. Dawn also regularly posts scrumptious recipes (take it from me--I've tried them); all these things cause me to admire this power couple greatly.

Dawn suggested that I create a photo rebus (like the cool one she made a while back) for the NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt. Mine isn't nearly as elaborate or clever, but the kids were excited to help. Can you guess from the photos which classic pop song is running through my head as we bid farewell to both National Blog Posting Month and National Novel Writing Month?



Give up? Here's a helpful link.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:58 AM

DAY TO READ campaign

First things first: join me on January 10th for Reading Day! (I know; as if I need an excuse to read.) It'll be fun!

I skipped a few Scavenger Hunt items Thanksgiving week, so today I'm going to try and combine a few so we can end this whole NaBloPoMo thing gracefully tomorrow. I think it will work out. I apologize in advance the contributors; I certainly don't want anyone to feel like I have given them short shrift.

One of my BBFFs (Best Blog Friends Forever), Brillig, thought I should write about being both active LDS/Mormon and politically liberal, which is a somewhat unusual combination, for some unfathomable reason.

Goofball, a darling Dutch friend who has given me invaluable help with research on one of my novels, had two requests: 1) give the details of my weirdest travel experience; and 2) tell more about my faith.

And Jenna, my fellow recovering Mary Kay Sales Director, and one of the best women I know personally, wanted to read more about my church mission experience.

I can see a bit of a pattern there, so work with me as I answer in rather non-linear fashion.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed 'Mormons' over 150 years ago) are Christians. It's very important that you know that; apparently there are groups out in the world who claim we are not Christians. But Jesus' name is in the middle of the name of our church for a reason: He's at the center of every aspect of our religion.

We believe that God speaks to people today through prophets just as He spoke to prophets in ancient times. Joseph Smith was the first of these latter-day prophets; he organized the church in upstate New York in 1830.

Here are our official Thirteen Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith in 1842 in response to questions from John Wentworth, the editor of The Chicago Democrat.

Here are other facts about our religion and members of the church.

Here's a great explanation of the LDS view of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Goofball, if you have any other questions, please email me. I can go on and on about this subject; it's very dear to my heart.

My 'weirdest' travel experience was definitely my mission for our church. I've done a fair bit of traveling, all of it very positive (except for our family cruise a few years ago; we'll never do THAT again). But my mission was unusual for many reasons.

LDS missionaries are mostly young men and women. 19-year-old boys are strongly encouraged to go on two-year, full-time missions; if they choose, women may go for 18-month missions when they turn 21. Missions are a highly structured, ascetic experience. Missionaries are expected to forgo dating, television and movies, most music, and reading of anything other than the scriptures. In addition, they are expected to be with their assigned companions all of the time.

Missionaries have one day off per week, called 'Preparation Day' (or 'P-Day'), when they do all of their housecleaning, food shopping, and laundry, with a little time left over for limited sight-seeing and physical recreation. At all other times, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., they are supposed to be sharing our faith with people in their assigned area. They may be knocking on doors, holding street meetings, or meeting with people referred to them by other church members. They also spend significant amounts of time every day (they wake up very early) engaged in prayer, meditation, and scripture study.

You may wonder how many young people could possibly be willing to take up such an arduous and monkish existence in this day and age. Well, in 2006, there were over 53,000 LDS missionaries serving all over the world.

When you put in your paperwork for a mission, you have no idea where you will be sent. You could end up in Hong Kong or Helsinki, Guatemala or Ghana, Connecticut or Korea, Uganda or Utah. If you'll be learning a foreign language, you typically spend two months in one of several Missionary Training Centers (MTC). If you are going to an English-speaking country, your time in the MTC is just two weeks.

In addition to proselytizing missions, there are also humanitarian missions, family services missions, family history missions, temple missions, and church historical site missions. As I mentioned before most missionaries are young single men and women, but senior couples and senior single sisters are actively encouraged to serve as well.

Missionaries pay their own way as much as possible. When they have not saved enough to support themselves for the length of the mission, their families and congregations (called 'wards') contribute as well.

Why did I go on a mission? I had been wanting to all my life; I had been raised thinking that it was the right thing to do. I thought I'd probably be pretty good at it. It's a concrete, measurable way to serve. For Mormons, it is a rite of passage, one of the ways we come of age. Like running a marathon, it's a significant accomplishment. But the biggest reason I went is because I wanted to share the good news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.

I was called to go on a French-speaking mission to Montreal, Canada. I was thrilled; I had studied French since first grade and was anxious to put it to good use. At the end of March 1989, I entered the MTC in Provo, Utah. After a great learning experience there, members of our group flew to Montreal and were assigned to various areas throughout the province of Quebec.

My area was Laval, an island suburb of Montreal. My senior companion was fantastic; we hit it off right away. She'd been out for over a year, and she was the perfect mix of enthusiasm and energy tempered with a lot of experience and wisdom.

I met people from all over the world in Laval; Quebec takes in many French-speaking immigrants, so we talked to people from Haiti, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, and Egypt, as well as many native Canadians.

I woke up every day excited and happy; there is something unique about giving up worldly concerns and devoting yourself as fully as possible to serving in a cause greater than yourself. I learned new things about myself, my relationship with God, and the world on a daily basis; it was the greatest spiritual experience I'd ever had up to that point in my life.

Unfortunately, in October of that year, I got horribly sick and had to return home from my mission. Doctors determined that there was no way to know when I would get better, so I was honorably released after only six months of service. I was crushed, but I believe these things happen for reasons we sometimes can't see for a long time. It took me over a year to convalesce fully.

I would go again in a heartbeat; in fact, Patrick and I plan to serve as many missions as possible once the kids are grown and on their own. I very much hope all our children will decide to serve as well. It's an experience I recommend highly.

As for my political beliefs and how they mesh with my religious beliefs? Let me be as tactful as possible; I have no wish to alienate the very large portion of my readers who belong to the party I actively oppose.

God gave us the earth and commanded us to take care of it; therefore, preserving the environment is a crucial issue for me.

Jesus asked us to take care of our fellow man; social and governmental programs that make taking care of the poor and disadvantaged easier and more efficient are a natural outgrowth of that admonition.

Our eleventh Article of Faith allows all men the privilege of worship according to the dictates of their own consciences; therefore I believe in a clear separation between church and state.

The Book of Mormon (which I believe, along with The Holy Bible, to be the word of God) clearly teaches that defense is the only reason sanctioned by God to take up arms; I have never believed that the conflict in which my country currently finds itself embroiled can be rationalized as 'defensive' in any way.

Whew! We've covered a lot of ground today. If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me. You're the best.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•5:10 AM
Today, Jhianna wants me to write about a song that has significance for me. Anyone who has seen my crazy eclectic profile might wonder how I could pick just one.

Should I go with Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, the piece that introduced me to the ineffable joys of Bach when I was in eighth grade Orchestra?

Or Symphony no. 5, which Patrick and I first heard on the radio as we were planning our wedding, and which began my 18-year, still-going-strong love affair with British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Or maybe I should reminisce about the first time I heard Thomas Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah sung at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, when the voices of the choir seemed to wind round one another in gorgeous and mysterious patterns as they ascended into the nave during the service of Tenebrae.

I might explore the above options in the future; Soccer Mom in Denial has just started Music Mondays, and I've got fodder for at least the next ten years. Today I'll go in a different direction: Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."

It's mid-November, 1978. I have just turned twelve, and I am deeply in love with Ian Richardson, a lanky, black-haired, blue-eyed boy with a sharp mind and a sardonic sense of humor. We have several classes together; there is only one Gifted & Talented track in Albert Einstein Jr. High's eighth grade program.

Though I am a mere girl, Ian is willing to be friends with me because we have one huge thing in common other than our schedule: we are both obsessed with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's not just that we've read the trilogy several times; we have taught ourselves to write in Dwarvish runes and have absorbed every bit of dry backstory we could winkle out of The Silmarillion.

Despite his inner geek, Ian is a clown, making him immensely popular with students and (oddly) teachers alike. Since my nerdiness has never known the bounds of any closet, I am fully aware how privileged I am that Ian even takes notice of me. Of course, I want more; I hope that Ian and I will eventually get married and raise a passel of kids with names like Galadriel and Faramir. But I wisely keep this to myself.

One day, as Ian and I are discussing whether the soon-to-open Ralph Bakshi adaptation of LOTR will be any good, he says something that gets my attention. "I know this band that does some songs about Middle-Earth."

Really? I must know more.

(At this point, I own exactly two records, both soundtracks: Grease and Saturday Night Fever. I'm not completely culturally illiterate; my parents are huge Beatles and Beach Boys fans, and I listen to the same top-40 radio station as most other kids my age, grooving to timeless classics by Hall & Oates and Earth, Wind & Fire.)

Ian makes me a cassette tape that includes Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop," "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp," and "The Battle of Evermore." I am instantly hypnotized by this strange new music, and my life is changed forever.

I'm not being dramatic. I set aside my quest to learn Quenya and let my obsessiveness autodidactism follow a new muse. Soon I've spent all my babysitting money acquiring Led Zeppelin's first four albums and subscribing to Rolling Stone magazine.

A single year later, with a little help from my friends Rolling Stone and the radio station KZAP, I've branched out into all kinds of hard and progressive rock: The Who, Boston, Yes, Foghat, Genesis, Rush, Jethro Tull, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I've worked my way backwards to fill in the gap left after the Beatles' break-up: The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The Doors.

Led Zep's heavy blues influence also leads me in that fabulous direction: B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, then somehow to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Which means when we move from Rancho Cordova (generic suburb of Sacramento) to Truckee (last bastion of Lake Tahoe ski bum hippiedom) in the middle of ninth grade, I hook up with a whole different crowd. I've gone from this (eighth grade, and picture the gaucho pants and knee socks that complete this particular ensemble):

to this (ninth grade).Way cooler, yes? Led Zeppelin: better than What Not to Wear. Who knew?

Has my post given you a hankering for more Middle-Earth? Here are two gems not to be missed:

1) Recent discovery Phil's live-blog of his experience watching the Peter Jackson trilogy in one marathon session. Love it; can't get enough.

2) More compelling than a train wreck: Leonard Nimoy sings his "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." As Spock would say, "Fascinating."
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:21 AM
Today's post topic comes from Jhianna at Queen of the Marginally Bright. I don't know Jhianna well (yet), but here are four things that make me love her already. 1) Serenity is one of her favorite movies. 2) She loves George R.R. Martin as much as I do. (Jhianna! I met him a couple of weeks ago! It was awesome!) 3) She lives in Castle Rock. (It's the one in Colorado, not the fictional one in Maine, but still.) 4) In her profile, she uses the word 'shiny' and the word 'parameters' in the same sentence.

Jhianna asked me about my favorite work of art. Since I love good art of all kinds from all cultures in all centuries, it would be well nigh impossible to choose one favorite. So I'll narrow the field quite a bit: I'll tell you about my favorite work of art in our house.

One of the many cool things about Patrick's copyright/trademark work is that sometimes clients show him their appreciation by giving him pieces of art. So we have some great original stuff that we could never afford hanging or sitting around the house. But as terrific as they are, my favorite piece is not one of these; instead it is one that has immense sentimental value to me.

When I was four years old, I would stare at a certain picture hanging on the wall of our living room for what seemed like hours at a time. It was in black and white, but it was not a photograph. It featured a girl lying face up in a body of water, apparently asleep, with a halo over her head. Who could she be? Why was she in the water? Who were the shadowy figures on the shore? I wondered about this picture endlessly.

When I was five, my parents split up. My dad kept the fascinating picture, and I never saw it again except on a brief visit when I was 21. By then, I knew enough to see that it was an engraving, and that the caption underneath read 'Martyre Chrétienne,' or 'Christian Martyr.' I also got the story on where the piece came from. In 1968, my grandmother found it in a Deseret Industries (a Goodwill-type thrift shop) in the Los Angeles area and bought it for about three dollars. She gave it to my father when he expressed intense interest in it.

When I was 27, Patrick and I went on our post-law school 'honeymoon' (we'd had neither the time nor the money for a real honeymoon when we got married three-and-a-half years earlier). It was a three-week trip to Paris, the Loire Valley, and French-speaking Switzerland, and it was heaven: 21 days of perfection (except for the horrendous perm I got at the Galeries Lafayette).

One day in the Louvre, as I was walking around goggling at beautiful things I'd seen in books my whole life, I turned a corner and stopped in my tracks. There on the wall was the picture from my childhood.


"The Young Martyr (A Christian Martyr Drowned in the Tiber at the Time of Diocletian)"
by Paul Delaroche, French 1797-1856

I was thrilled that the Museum Shop had a postcard of the painting; I bought two and sent one off to my father telling him how exciting it was to find it. Later that day, Patrick and I spend a fascinating few hours in the Louvre's Department of Chalcography. Here's what we learned. These days, if you love a great painting, but your budget is limited, you buy a print or a poster. In the centuries before this was possible, engravers made their living making copies of paintings, then selling them for display in people's houses. The next time you are at the Louvre, visit this department. They have thousands of original engraving plates of all sorts of fascinating images, and will make a print for you for a fairly modest fee. They didn't have a plate of "The Young Martyr," but we did get a cool engraving of the fountains at Saint-Cloud.

About four years ago, my father sent me a huge package in the mail; it contained treats for the kids and the engraving that had hung on his wall for so many years. At some point, it had gotten damaged by a swamp cooler, and the picture glass had broken in transit, so Patrick and I took it to our local framing expert to see whether we could get the piece repaired and reframed. The restorer did fantastic work on it and liked it so much that he offered to buy it from us; apparently it's worth quite a bit of money. It's an original print of an engraving by Hermann Eichens after the Delaroche painting, and it now hangs above our living room mantel:

Apologies for the poor photo; it really is a finely detailed engraving. You'll just have to come over and see it in person. I did some research a while ago to determine whether this was one martyr in particular, but apparently Delaroche had no one specific in mind. I did find out that Teh Great Internets apparently believe that the painting hangs in The Hermitage. Perhaps it had been on loan to the Louvre in 1993; I'm not sure.

I do know that some people walk into our house, see it, and question my taste in art, but I find this piece just as captivating now as I did 37 years ago. Thanks again for the gift, Dad. I treasure it.

Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:46 AM
Pezmama's final request for the Scavenger Hunt was that I imagine I were the namer of nail polish colors. What names would I think up?

I would love to get paid to do that. Even better would be the job to name paint or yarn colors, since nail polish tones typically comprise only about a third of the spectrum.

I recently read a study about naming products; consumers apparently prefer evocative, slightly incongruous names to plain, descriptive ones. I can confirm this. I remember browsing through a J. Crew catalog in the late 80s, pondering the difference between an Oregano and a Sage Roll-Neck Sweater. Both seemed more appealing than a Dusty Green one would have.

Here are some nail polish colors I would invent (probably many of them already exist):

Cherry Pie. Pomegranate. Claret. Cinnamon Bear. Linzer Tart. Sachertorte. Juicy Melon. Ladyapple. Nutmeg. Berry Lovely. Apricot Cream. Turkish Delight. Red Delicious.

Maiden Blush. Naked Nacre. Sinsation. Tawny Kitten. Taboo. Saucy. Tickled Pink. First Kiss. Tempted. French Maid. Hot to Trot.

Spring Fling. Japanese Maple. Hollyhock. Bittersweet. Stargazer. Petal. Morning Glory. New Moon. Primrose. Morning Mist.

Chalcedony. Scarlet & Miniver. Silver Lining. Rapunzel. Damask. Cachet. Fameuse. Ciao Bella. Bijou. Midsummer Night's Dream. Treasure Trove.

Here are some that probably wouldn't sell, at least not to the mainstream beauty market:

Prune. Bellicose. Carotid. Texas Tea. Petri Dish. Chutney. Traffic Signal. Compost. Night Train. Crimson Tide. Dusty Brick. Bruise.

And my favorite of this lot: Old Meat.

What about you? Do any great (or awful) color names come to mind?
Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:35 PM
That Pezmama, always stirring up trouble. Today she wants me to reveal what my ten least favorite books of all time are. She knows how confrontation-averse I am, yet she wants me to write a controversial post on a highly subjective topic. Ay-ay-ay, as Pez herself is fond of writing.

I'll do as she requests; I'll give you ten books (or series) I hate. It's not hard to make a list. Astute readers will notice that even a couple of my favorite writers are not exempt from making the occasional glaring mistake. As Joe Queenan wrote in The New York Times not too long ago, "bad books fall into three broad categories: the stupid, the meta-stupid, and the immoral. Each has its own inimitable charms." So I'm not going to tell you why I dislike the following books; I'll leave you to figure out to which category each belongs.

Just so we're clear, #1 is my least favorite book of all time; the others are slightly less egregious.

Okay. Deep breath. Here goes.

10. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
9. A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray
8. The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell
7. His Dark Materials (trilogy), by Philip Pullman (Yes, that includes The Golden Compass)
6. Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth
5. Winter's Heart, by Robert Jordan
4. The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King
3. Earthfall, by Orson Scott Card
2. The What to Expect series, by Murkoff, Eisenberg, and Hathaway
1. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

No protests or arguments, please! Really: you have no idea how Capitol-Hill-Gangish this post is already making me feel.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:22 AM
Patrick (to whom modifiers cannot possibly do justice) contributed today's topic to my month-long NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt, asking (in a comment using one of his various pseudonyms), "How can one use alliteration without sounding like Dr. Seuss?"

Marcella Hazan, one of my favorite cookbook authors, once wrote that spices should be used as "as a halo and not as a club." In other words, they should enhance rather than overwhelm a dish.

I believe the same holds true for alliteration. Use it in small doses; employ assonance and consonance as well to mix it up a bit. All three can be combined very effectively in poetry:

"The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees." (Tennyson)

They are usually distracting when overused in prose, however (unless specifically employed as a mnemonic device, such as in a sermon or other didactic piece).

To be honest, I wish more people could sound like Dr. Seuss. What sets his work far above many of his imitators was not his love for alliteration but his strict adherence to his poetic meter of choice. Flaubert wrote, "Poetry is as precise as geometry," and that certainly is true of the writing of Dr. Seuss.

He wrote many of his early books, like And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, in anapestic tetrameter. What does all that polysyllabic Greek mean?

An anapest is a rhythmic unit, or 'foot,' composed of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable, as in the word 'underneath' or the phrase 'in the car.' 'Tetrameter' means that there are four feet to each line. Read the title of the book in the above paragraph, and you'll get it. Or, here's Lord Byron: "And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea" (and dig that alliteration, baby).

Sometimes Seuss would eliminate the first weak syllable and/or tack one on at the end of a line, as in "In all the whole town, the most wonderful spot," which is the first line of If I Ran the Circus. But this has always been an acceptable adaptation of the meter.

He also wrote in trochaic tetrameter (trochees are feet that have a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, as in 'doughnut' or 'hard hat'), sometimes mixing it up with iambic tetrameter (iambs are feet that have an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, like 'begin' or 'to be'). In Green Eggs and Ham, the two main characters have very different poetic voices: once speaks in iambs, the other mostly in trochees.

Whatever his chosen meter, it was flawless, which makes his writing a joy to read out loud. Dr. Seuss would often labor for months over his deceptively simple texts so that he could express the story's ideas and images while maintaining pristine rhythm. My favorite of his is called "Too Many Daves," found in the collection The Sneetches and Other Stories. It's perfect, I tell you, perfect.

Imitators today don't have his discipline and discerning ear; therefore their stories sound clumsy and clunky. I won't name names, but I've read far too many children's books that use poetical meter in a halfhearted sort of way, thinking that an end-rhyme will cover a multitude of sins. Not so.

The Cat in the Hat has sold over seven million copies because even toddlers and their parents who don't know an anapest from a dactyl recognize this formula:

Brilliantly imagined plot and characters + hypnotic, never-stumbling rhythm = story that never gets stale.

(Take it from me, the mother of five Seuss-lovers; I've probably read that book two thousand times in the past fourteen years.)

If you want to create rhythmic, rhyming children's books with that kind of selling and staying power, read Byron and Tennyson and Longfellow and study their meters. Be as precise as a geometer in your content and in your form.

It wouldn't hurt if you could draw fantastical creatures, buildings, and machines in an accessible, instantly recognizable style while you're at it. But that's a subject for a whole other post.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•5:24 PM
A-scavenging we'll go, today with the help of one of the greats of blogdom: Radioactive Jam. I really can't say enough good about this certified Blog Diety. Always engaging, clever, and thought-provoking, RaJ is kind enough to share the inner workings of his eclectic and vigorous mind with the rest of us.

Not only does RaJ post consistently terrific content, but he also goes out of his very busy way to encourage the more inexperienced among us in the most gracious and self-effacing manner. He's a National Treasure. Maybe I'll create the National Treasure Blog Award and give it to him to add to his already full-to-bursting trophy case.

RaJ asked me to post about 'a rutabaga.' How timely! It's the season of the year in my hemisphere for hearty, filling root vegetables like this one that Hope is embracing in the photo above. Rutabagas, swedes, yellow turnips, neeps: they're all the same thing.

Long maligned as 'famine food,' rutabagas are only now coming back into vogue with the heritage/heirloom vegetable renaissance. But thrifty and omnivorous yankee that she was, Julia Child knew of their value years and years ago. Here's my favorite way to cook and serve rutabagas, straight out of my very favorite cookbook in all the world, The Way to Cook. I took this dish once to a church supper, and it got rave reviews.

Julia Child's Gratin of Rutabaga

1-1/2 pounds rutabaga, cut into 3/4-inch dice (4 to 5 cups)
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 large clove of garlic, minced

3 TB butter
3 TB flour
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper to taste
3 TB bread crumbs
3 TB grated Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 6-cup baking dish generously and set it aside. Place the rutabaga in a steaming basket with the ginger and garlic. Cover and steam over 1 inch of boiling water for about 10 minutes, until almost tender. Remove the steamer. Boil down the steaming liquid to 1/4 cup; reserve.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Stir together for 2 minutes; the butter and flour should foam together without coloring more than a buttery yellow. Remove from heat. Pour in all but 1/2 cup of the milk at once, whisking vigorously to blend thoroughly. Then stir slowly, reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan, until the sauce comes to a simmer; simmer 2 to 3 minutes, stirring and thinnning with dribbles of the remaining milk. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon nicely. Whisk in the salt and pepper, tasting carefully as you go.

Add the reduced steaming liquid to the sauce and stir well. Fold the rutabaga into the sauce and put into the buttered baking dish. Spread on the crumbs and the cheese. Bake for 90 minutes. The top should be nicely and lightly browned and the sauce almost completely absorbed.

Now my mouth is watering; I'm off to eat some turkey leftovers.

Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:27 PM
I have an amazing husband and five terrific, healthy kids. I have a lovely, safe, comfortable house, clothes to wear, and food to eat. I have extended family whose company I cherish. I have precious friends. I have faith that sustains me through difficult times. I live in a place so full of natural beauty that it sometimes hurts to look around at it all. I can read and write and listen to beautiful music pretty much whenever I want.

Thankful heart? Oh, yes.

Back to the Scavenger Hunt tomorrow, friends! Thanks for reading.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•6:43 PM
From left to right: My Grandma Ybright, Auntie Mamie, Auntie Emma, and Auntie Esther.

The women in my family live a long time. Tomorrow would have been Grandma's 98th birthday; she passed on a little over eight years ago. Grandma made her own saddles, built her own greenhouse and a deck on the back of her house, sewed exquisite wedding gowns and ballet costumes, made and decorated wedding cakes that would serve 250 people from scratch at the drop of a hat, and canned everything in sight.

Auntie Mamie died the day after her 96th birthday. She was serving lunch to the 'old people' at the Senior Center even then. She had the best laugh ever.

Auntie Emma died just shy of her 100th birthday; she made the most delectable candied pecans, and she chopped firewood for her cookstove until she was at least 98.

Auntie Esther died two years ago at the age of 98, healthy as a horse and a rabid Oakland A's fan to the very end. I think she just missed her sisters. She could still kick like a Rockette and do the splits the last time I saw her.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I sure do miss you and my great Great-Aunties.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:01 PM
Christine's question for today's Scavenger Hunt post is:

What would you do if you could wave a magic wand and completely remove from the world, or at least from the English language, one each of the following;
A colloquialism
A common written grammatical error
A single abbreviation
A homonym, in whole or part
A ‘mis-definable’ term (example if a tin-whistle is made of tin, then what is a foghorn made of? You probably even know the linguistic name for such a thing.)

Oh, how this Grammar Fascista wishes she had a Fairy Godmother to do just this sort of thing. Then she would not be reduced to yelling at the television and billboards in her frustration over The Decline and Fall of the English Language.

Here are my wishes, Dear Fairy:

Colloquialism: "My bad." Oh, how I hate this phrase; I don't really know why. It's just icky. I forgive my buddy (I wish) Joss Whedon, who used it once on "Buffy." And I forgive Amy Heckerling, who popularized it in the first place by using it in the script for the otherwise terrific movie "Clueless."

Common Written Grammatical Error: My biggest pet peeve in this area is the misuse of the contraction 'it's.' 'It's' ALWAYS stands for 'it is,' NEVER for the third person possessive form of 'it.' Here's an easy way to remember: his, hers, its. No apostrophes to be found, right? Right. It's easy.

Abbreviation: This will only make sense to LDS/Mormons. We have four books of canonized scripture: The Holy Bible (we generally use the KJV in English), The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. The Doctrine & Covenants, which is a book of latter-day revelations from the Lord to Joseph Smith and other prophets of our church, is often abbreviated 'D&C.' I find this to be an unfortunate coincidence; therefore, I never use this abbreviation (except when taking notes) and I cringe when I hear it spoken.

Homonym: I can't think of any I would eliminate. Could the fairy grant that everyone just get them straight from now on?

'Mis-definable term' (No, I don't know the linguistic term for this concept, Christine. Sorry to disappoint.): 'Clowning around' is supposed to be synonymous with 'fooling around,' but since clowns are EVIL and not at all funny (except in Springfield, where they are funny BECAUSE they are evil), I would prefer that this term never be used again.

Clap your hands if you believe in fairies, and maybe my wishes will come true!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:52 AM
Today's post topic is brought to you by Christine. Christine is a close personal friend of mine, and also happens to be the stalwart mother of the award-winning Torie of the War Hammer. Though she does not blog herself, Christine is that rara avis who recognizes how welcome comments are to the blogger. She's great.

Christine asked, "What would you do if you knew you only had five more years left to live?"

After going through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, I don't think I'd change very much at all about my life. I'm no paragon, but I do think my life is pretty great the way it is. (Delusion can be a wonderful thing.)

And maybe the silver lining would be that it would give me an angle with marketing my novels. "Dear Agent, I only have five years to live. Please consider my manuscript for publication before I go the way of all flesh...." Hmmmm.


* I've been wanting to use that line as a post title ever since I first heard The Shins' "Australia." Today seemed as good a day as any.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:22 PM
My dear friend (and very talented, very published writer) Annette Lyon requested today's topic. Annette, these 'Gertrude Jekyll' roses from my garden are for you.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:01 AM
I'm taking a break from the Scavenger Hunt today; there's something else I'd like to write about instead. I got home very late last night from our wonderful Book Group meeting to find a treat waiting for me in my email inbox.

Kimberly of Temporary?Insanity has awarded me A Roar for Powerful Words, which I will set up in my sidebar trophy case just as soon as I am able. Here's the quote from her blog:

Those people given this award are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere!

I'm very touched; I adore Kimberly and her funny, wise, and insightful posts. Her writing fits perfectly into my definition of powerful writing, which I'll spell out for you as required by the award:

1) Honesty: I believe even idle words have power, but the truth exponentially amplifies the power intrinsic in words.

2) Coherence: Whether in physics or in linguistics, unity + flow = increased potency, either constructive or destructive. (We'll leave quantum mechanics out of the metaphor for now.) In writing, the logical progression of cohesive ideas or scenes makes for power, no matter the genre.

Even (especially) plot twists need to cohere to the whole for the story to make sense. To my mind, the most powerful writing has a sense of surprise yet inevitability to it. As you begin reading, you may not necessarily see how the story or essay will unfold, but looking back you see that if the writer hadn't presented it in precisely that way, the piece would have been diminished. The best music is this way, too. Coherence is key to great art.

3) Rule #6*: This is old Perkins family lore, passed on to me by Patrick's mother just before I left on my church mission to Montreal.

Rule #6 is "Don't take yourself too seriously." Better counsel could not be given to a would-be writer or missionary. Keep a sense of humor, humility, and perspective about you and your work, and your writing (or preaching) will be the better for it.

Now, to pass on the award. Though I am fortunate to be acquainted with many fine and powerful writers, I knew immediately the five bloggers to whom I would pass on the honor of this award.

Five young people in my church congregation have recently begun their own blogs, and I have been thrilled and amazed at what they have accomplished thus far. They are:

1) The Lilac Closet: The stereotype of teenage humor is one of obvious jokes and pratfalls; not so with Mary, a.k.a. "MQC." (I'll let her tell you the whys and wherefores on that moniker.) She is sly, dry, and wry; her post about a certain dumpling fiasco is particularly good. If I were her guidance counselor, I would strongly encourage her towards a career in humor writing.

2) Wakeboard Star: Alice jumped right into Soap Opera Sundays almost immediately, coming up with fresh, funny, and perceptive installments of her semi-autobiographical series with ease and charm. She's also taken to memery/memetics like a skier to water, handily adapting a popular meme to her own circumstances. She is a delight.

3) Familiar Stranger: Maite is just getting started, but I expect great things from her. Post that story, Maite!

4) Torie of the War Hammer, a.k.a. (to my chagrin) Richard Cory: Holy. Cow. Read what this bright one wrote to analyze two of my very favorite short stories, Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Joyce Carol Oates's "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" I have one word for you: Prodigy.

5) James Loves the Mets: Jamesie is a Deep Thinker. I prize his sporadic entries; it is a joy to read (and help punctuate) the meanderings of his 11-year-old mind. His blog has been yet another fun bond for us, and I look forward to many more posts from my Bean.

You five may not be able to pass on the award; I know you don't know that many bloggers yet. No worries; just keep doing what you are doing. You are a testament to the grace and power of the rising generation, and I feel very privileged to know you.


*Whenever this number is mentioned, my poor, beleaguered brain shouts things like "Who is #1?" and "I am not a number; I am a free man!" What can you do?
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:01 AM
Once again, Pezmama (who is Jane Austen's newest fan, I'm thrilled to report) has come to my rescue with a topic for the ongoing extravaganza that is the Scavenger Hunt. Here my assignment for the day:

[Post] on blahhhhing: the sometimes subtle difference between blog posting that is "for clicks" and those that are truly an endeavor by the author to engage the reader... and how to tell the difference between the two.

Posting for clicks? Whaaaa?
My reaction upon reading her suggestion was the same as the one I had when I first learned as a poor, innocent child about the 'facts of life':

People really do that?

Subtle difference, indeed. Or perhaps I'm just not as discerning as I had thought; I have never noticed this posting-for-clicks thing happening before. But maybe there's a whole dark, secret side of blogging that comes under the heading of Too Much Information. Maybe it's happening all around me, every day. But I can't bear to think about that.

I have heard of commenting for clicks. This I understand, sort of.
There seems to be a need on the part of many bloggers to widen their circle of influence (or at least awareness) through random commenting on the posts of the more popular sites; maybe posting for clicks works the same way. But surely not on the blogs I read.

I am picky, picky, picky about the blogs I visit. It's not that I'm a snob; it's just that my self-allotted time on Planet Blog has to be short. I read the blogs of those with whom I feel a connection; when I comment, it's to let the blogger know that what s/he's written has resonated with me in some way. Of course I hope that the blogger will visit me and find something of value at my site in return, but I've been around long enough to know that many blogcrushes languish unrequited.

And that's okay by me. You all are at least as busy as I am. You spend time on what you really value, just as I do. Let's all resolve to be secure enough in our various and unique blog personas never to post or comment purely for clicks.
Say it with me, friends: I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•1:25 PM
(Er, I got better.)*

Today's post request comes from the operatic and Southern-living Painted Maypole. The Maypole is worth her weight in gold for her lovely posts about New Orleans alone, but her blog has much, much more to offer than that. Visit her, and you'll see what I mean.

The Maypole clearly harbors a touch of hostility when it comes to NaBloPoMo, and at this point in the month (thank heaven, halfway through at last), I don't blame her. From the comment she left when I announced the Scavenger Hunt, I gather that she suspects that NaBloPoMo is a Device of Evil. Which of course is why I quoted the witch trial scene from Monty Python's The Holy Grail for this post's title.†

But it's an equation with which I am not likely to agree, as exhausted as I am by a mere fortnight's worth of daily posting. I see NaBloPoMo as a neutral concept, like that of money.

And as the Perkins fam read just this very morning in 1 Timothy, it is not money, but the love of money, that is the root of all evil. In like fashion, NaBloPoMo can be used for either good or ill; it's just a matter of making sure the dog is still wagging the tail, and not the other way round. I hope my posts are adding to the good in the world (though this one is probably pretty useless), and not to the bad; that's certainly my intention.


What's bad so far about having committed to NaBloPoMo? 1) Having to type the silly half-acronym ad nauseam. 2) It has cut into my reading time; leisure reading is what I have had to give up in order to make room for posting every day while also fulfilling the strictures of NaNoWriMo.


What's good? 1) Even more fabulous posts to read from some of my very favorite bloggers. 2) I care far less about comments/feedcrack than I ever have in all my short blogging career. Don't get me wrong. I love comments from my readers; I wish I had more (readers and comments). But posting every day has gotten me to give up obsessively checking my email to see whether anyone has responded lately. And that, my friends, is worth a lot.


* See the second paragraph.
† Do you get it now?
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:00 AM
Deb of Missives from Suburbia is hilarious. Plus, she's famous: she was recently on The Today Show. So you probably do want to be her friend, or at least one of her stalkers (keep it virtual; she has many large dogs). Deb contributed today's Scavenger Hunt request: What is your favorite cliché, and why?

A cliché is "a trite or overused expression," according to The Free Dictionary. My very most favorite cliché is "beyond a shadow of a doubt," for reasons that probably only long-time Mormons would understand. So I'll go with my second favorite: "Well, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye."

Why am I fond of this one? Because it's true; just about anything is better than a sharp stick in the eye. Except a plastic sword in the eye, as Christian accidentally found out yesterday, courtesy of Sir Daniel the Intrepid.

Other clichés often heard at the Perkins Corrall:

You don't have to like it; you just have to eat it.
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
Bring it on, Grandpa!
Santa, you're scaring me.
You can do hard things.
Dude, talk to the hand.
What the heck?
Did you want to heat/cool the whole neighborhood?
You said 'pie!'
Your shoe/book/ponytail holder didn't just fall into a wormhole; keep looking until you find it.

What, some of those aren't familiar to you? I can't imagine why not. They are all very useful shorthand for whole conversations; by all means adopt some as your own, if you like.