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.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•2:06 PM
Jen of A2eatwrite is another one of these great bloggers who has dramatically improved the quality of my life. She's a talented writer with a wise and funny perspective on life; I am so glad to know her. Cross your fingers that you'll be able to find her YA paranormal novel in bookstores soon, because it's a treat!

Jen's contribution to my NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt is a particularly welcome one; she asked me to recap Christian's and my experience at the World Fantasy Convention, which was held the first weekend of this month. This year's WFC theme was "Ghosts and Revenants: Memory, History, and Folklore," so many of the panels and performances were centered around that theme.

Christian and I had a great time. Saratoga Springs is famed both for its mineral springs and for its race track; its lovely Victorian downtown area is thriving with great shops, spas, and restaurants of all sorts.
You can see the Con's riff on Saratoga in the photo above; this is the official T-shirt, featuring the running of "The Van Helsing Stakes," a speculative horse race between Dracula, Cthulhu (we immediately both thought of RaJ), the Headless Horseman, and a Ringwraith. We got to Saratoga a little after noon, picked up our registration packets, and went to lunch at a cute little restaurant on Main Street.

Our first con event was a reading by Jane Yolen. It's always nice when a talented writer is also a gifted out-loud reader; she was fabulous. Then we went to a panel that featured Esther Friesner and Paul Cornell, among others, discussing "The Varieties of Ghostly Experience."
Panels are a crapshoot: sometimes great, sometimes not. An author you love may be a terrible panelist: either so in love with the sound of his/her own voice that domination becomes inevitable, or too shy and retiring to speak up and contribute to the group discussion. Sometimes the panelists stray from the topic at hand; this can be good, but is more often frustrating. But I have often discovered new favorite writers because they were terrific panelists. You just never know.

Next was a reading by Dave Duncan. Oh, how I love this man. His writing is brilliant, and he sounds like a tenor version of Sean Connery. His reading was utterly charming.

After hearing Dave, we hit the bookseller's room, where we met Bruce Coville, a lovely human being who deserves every bit of his considerable success. We bought a book of his for James and one for Hope; he graciously signed them both.

Then we went next door to the art gallery. Many prominent sf/fantasy illustrators had booths featuring both original work and prints; Christian bought a cool signed print by Bob Eggleton, who happened to be right there at the time.

We went to dinner at a surprisingly authentic Mexican restaurant owned by a former jockey from Oaxaca. There's really nothing better than simple, straightforward Mexican food; yum.

Back we went to the Conference Center for the Autograph Party. WFC is mainly for authors and editors; the admission is capped very low, so the author-to-fan ratio is quite high. At the party, we could walk right up to fantasy greats like George R.R. Martin (with whom I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Go home this instant and finish that long-overdue book") or Lois McMaster Bujold and chat for a bit.

Saturday morning's first panel was a winner: "Tolkien as a Horror Writer," with panelists like Jeanne Cavelos, Ysabeau Wilce, and Douglas Anderson. Next was another great one: "Robert Aickman and the Aesthetics of Ambiguity," with that rock star Peter Straub and Guest of Honor Lisa Tuttle. We were loving life.

After lunch came an hour-long reading with Guy Gavriel Kay. Fantastico. Then we heard a terrific panel of all Australian writers talking about ghosts Down Under, and Christian got some books signed by one of his (and my) favorites, Garth Nix. Very satisfying.

We went back to our hotel room to rest for a few hours, because the evening's program was going to run late. We watched a movie, ate some pizza, and hung out: good Mom-son time was had.

That evening, we went to "A Pleasing Terror," Alan Dean Foster's performance of two English ghost stories written by M.R. James. Foster was amazing; Jim Dale couldn't have done it better. The event was held by candlelight, and with just a few minor props, Foster had us spellbound. If you're going to be in London over the holidays, seek him out. Next was a great panel on Shirley Jackson featuring Kathryn Cramer and that slipstream goddess Kelly Link.

The next morning we enjoyed Christian's favorite panel, "The Ghosts of New York State," with historian Mason Winfield and fantasy icon Betty Ballantine, among others. Unfortunately, the next panel was rather a dud, which was a huge disappointment, as it was on Urban Fantasy. After that, we heard John Crowley, one of my favorite fantasy writers, read from his latest work-in-progress.

At that point, the only thing left was the World Fantasy Awards banquet. The food was horrid and our table company was questionable, but Guy Gavriel Kay gave a brilliant speech as Master of Ceremonies, and seeing the awards presented was very cool. Think "Oscars for geeks," and you'll have a pretty good picture of what went on. That darling legend Gene Wolfe won Best Novel; he'd celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary the day before, so he was a pretty happy guy. Love it.

After that, we hopped in the car and drove home. As conventions go, Readercon remains my favorite by far, but we won't soon forget our time at this year's WFC.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•4:46 PM
Anjmae of Makaimama, who happens to be my superwoman of a younger sister, asked me to find out where the expression 'the whole nine yards' came from. Annette Lyon was kind enough to open up that vast warehouse of information that is her brain and give us the answer in a comment (which is, as I have confirmed independently, that there IS NO credibly documented answer).

So my job here is basically done.

But here's a funny (at least, to me) Daniel story, just so you don't feel totally ripped off today. We pass over the Croton Reservoir on our way to and from church every Sunday. For a while now, Daniel and I have had a friendly argument as we drive across the bridge. It goes like this:

Daniel: There's the river!

Me: It's the reservoir.

Daniel: No, it's the river!

Me: Actually, it's the reservoir.

So a couple of Sundays ago, Daniel got a little frustrated after our normal exchange. Here's how it went:

Daniel: There's the river!

Me: It's the reservoir.

Daniel: No, it's the river!

Me: Actually, it's the reservoir.

Daniel: Mom, do you see all that blue water down there?

Me: Yes.

Daniel (with more disdain than a three-year-old should be able to muster): It's called 'a river.'
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:00 PM
Well, I won't say 'absolutely nothing,' as I would if I were correctly paraphrasing the song, but it's not good for much, in my opinion.

Kimberly at Temporary?Insanity (brilliant, funny, and gorgeous: she's a regular trifecta) suggested that I write about guilt in relation to being a wife, mother, and woman. It's late; I've had a vey full Sunday, and Patrick is dying for us to turn out the light, so I'll be quick. And I won't feel bad about it, either. Why? Because I can only do what I can do.

If feelings of remorse cause you to make amends for something bad you did, great. But if you're feeling guilty about something you're not willing to change, why? 'Remove the layer of self-criticism,' a wise friend once counseled me.

So you're not the best laundress, or you don't bake from scratch, or you're not willing to give up MnMs. You don't change your own oil, or you pay someone else to mow your lawn, or you don't know HTML. Get fine with it and save the energy you are spending on guilt and use it in a positive way for something you really care about. Beating yourself up gets you nowhere but down.

I'm not saying we shouldn't constantly be striving for self-improvement. I am saying that guilt is a poor motivator. So if it doesn't work, ditch it and walk away smiling.

I know: easier written than done. But all we can do is try every day, right?
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:11 AM

Kathleen, that ever-cheerful blogger from Anchorage, Alaska, came up with today's NaBloPoMo stumper. "Why do people hurt other people?"

As I tried to digest this question, child of the 80s that I am, I immediately thought of the Tears for Fears song quoted in this post title. Then I ruminated upon how much better Michael Andrews's cover of "Mad World" is than the original (as much as I love it). Next I pondered how very creepy yet cool the movie Donnie Darko is.

Which led me, of course, to wonder in pharisaical manner whether watching an R-rated movie that I've already seen violates my 'no R-rated movies' rule (I imposed this on myself a couple of years ago). Because I love The Matrix so much, and why was it rated R anyway? Dumb: I've seen PG-13 movies that were way more violent. Oh, and Blade Runner is rated R, too; that's one of my all-time favorites, dang it. And....

Oh, wait. Kathleen asked a really hard, very serious question. Focus, girl; focus.

And all I have to answer is this. When someone hurts me or someone I love, I try to remember that all ugliness is born of pain and fear. I don't think people would hurt each other if they weren't hurting or grieving in some way, a fact of which they might not even be conscious.

I could try and expand on this in poetic or allegorical manner, but that's the truth as I know it, plain and simple. Thanks for asking, Kathleen! I can check one more day off as 'done' on my mental NaBloPoMo calendar.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•3:38 PM
For today’s Scavenger Hunt topic, three separate commenters asked for a list of my favorite books: Pezmama, Dedee, and the prodigiously talented Jen at A2eatwrite. A list of my Top 100 would have been easier. But top ten is what was requested, so top ten is what I give you, along with a few comments.

But first, a caveat: of course the scriptures are my favorite reading material. But I put them outside the bounds of this list, the way I put chocolate outside of the bounds of candy.

Also, I didn’t rank these. That would be just too hard, and somewhat pointless besides. So just pretend they're all tied for first place.

Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin
Mark Helprin is the most gifted living American writer (his photo graces this post). This book, told as an old Italian man’s memoir of his experiences in World War I, is lyrical, funny, spellbinding, and uplifting. The writing is breathtaking (and I don't mean that in the Seinfeldian sense).

The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
Eco is the most gifted living European writer. I love all of his writing, fiction and non-fiction, but The Name of the Rose is my favorite. It’s so brilliant; just thinking of it makes me want to re-read it. Again.

The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton
This is my favorite kids’ book of all time, bar none. I first checked it out at the Woodland Public Library when I was ten. We moved roughly once every two years after that, and I judged every new library by whether they had a copy of this book or not. I’ve bought countless copies and lent or given them away, because I believe every ten-year-old should read it. Jane Langton writes funny mysteries and has published many other children's books, but none comes close to the genius of this one.

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
I’ve written elsewhere about my deep love for this book. I’ve read it probably 20 times. For a long time when I was single, I’d just pick up this trusty novel when I was pining for a little vicarious romance.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
I have been a serious Tolkien geek from age ten onwards. We’re talking: teaching myself to write Cirthish runes and speak Elvish. That level of geekdom. I went to a panel discussion on Tolkien at the World Fantasy Convention last weekend and felt entirely validated in my lifelong devotion. High adventure, vivid characters both good and evil, timeless themes of the struggle for agency and the power of love and friendship: it just doesn’t get any better than Tolkien.

The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
I love a good allegory, and this is one of the original great ones. It tells the story of Christian, an everyman character, who travels from his home in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, having many harrowing adventures along the way. It is no accident that our first boy and our first girl are named after characters in the book.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Somehow I wasn’t required to read this in high school, so I didn’t pick it up for the first time until I was nearly 30. I’ve made up for lost time; this is another favorite re-read. There is no better father in all of literature than Atticus Finch.

Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
Yes, Helprin is that good: he has two books in my Top Ten. This book made me fall in love with New York City long before I ever moved there. It reads like a historical novel (except for the fabulous magic). So gorgeous.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Published in 2004, this is the most recently written book on my list. Clarke evokes a unique and heady atmosphere in its pages, the perfect mix of English gothic and alternate history fantasy. The amazing footnotes are not to be missed.

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
I love all the Stegner I’ve ever read, but this is my favorite for very personal reasons. It’s just lovely.

So there it is! How many of them have you read?

And stay tuned until later in the month, when I reveal my ten least favorite books of all time.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:57 AM
The other day, my kind and very accomplished (yet non-blogging) friend Melissa wrote in a comment (and I cut and paste), "Luisa, is there any topic about which you cannot write? You, like Isaac Asimov, could have a blog in every section of the Dewey Decimal system."

Well, that is high praise indeed, and of course I let it go straight to my head for a bit. However, it is with great relief that today I step down from that lofty and precarious pedestal. You see, today's Scavenger Hunt question, posed by Dedee (who really should chat with the aforementioned Melissa, as they are both talented violinists), concerns the Veggie Tales.

Dedee fired off three Veggie Tale questions in quick succession:

"Which Veggie Tales is the best to date?"
"On a related note, which Silly Song is the best?"
"Have you heard of Veggie Tales?"

She then kindly let me off the hook, allowing me to combine the three if need be.

I can only answer the third question with any authority; I know virtually nothing about the Veggie Tales. My kids are familiar with them, as we have close friends who are ardent fans, but I've never seen an episode or heard a Silly Song.

It's a good thing I don't have more to write for today. Tomorrow's post topic (put forth by three separate commenters) requires much thought and deliberation. Plus, you know, there's that novel I'm writing. Forward, pressing forward....
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:03 AM
Today's NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt topic comes from the ever-gracious Anne Bradshaw. What is it, she wonders, that makes a book a best-seller?

Is it content, or is it marketing?

Ahh, grasshoppers. The answer to the (literally) million-dollar question is: Yes.

The other answer is: Sometimes, one or the other.

But you knew that, right?

This morning I emailed a close friend of mine who works in Big Publishing to get her take on the question; she absolutely confirmed my instincts, nearly word for word.

Sometimes we see a book on the best-seller list, and we wonder, Why? How?

I think it is important to ask those questions thoughtfully and not disdainfully. Here's what my friend wrote in her answer this morning: "Lots of times when a book is a huge hit and I don't get it, I think to myself, clearly there is something about this--writing, premise, information, voice, characters--something that is speaking to people. Even if I can't figure out what it is."

Amen. A best-seller sells well because the writer has somehow made a connection with a large group of the population. Don't begrudge it.

I believe it is very bad writing karma to disrespect the best-sellers, and I'll tell you why. Those books are revenue generators for the publishers, and without those big names selling books in every airport and Wal-Mart from here to Timbuktu, there would be. No. Cash. To finance more modest projects, like those you and I hope to have published someday. So next time you feel tempted to sneer at Danielle Steele or Robert Jordan or Jack Canfield, remember that discretion is the better part of valor. And also: what goes around, comes around.

That said, here are the Ten Steps you need to follow if you'd like to have your own best-seller:

1) Write a mind-blowingly good book.

2) I mean it. Write the very best book you can. Take a course, or join a critique group, if that kind of thing works for you. And see the story through to the end. Trust me: five brilliant chapters do not a finished product make.

3) If you are not adept at line editing (and even if you are), hire a Grammar Fascista™ or Fascisto™. You need at least one more pair of eyes to go over your stuff to make sure that your form is as perfect as your content. Trust me: agents and editors care about spelling and grammar--more than you'll ever know. They are the gatekeepers to the Holy Land of Publishing; if you don't get past them, you'll be forever on the outside.

4) Do meticulous research to find five agents who will be such a great fit for you and your work that they will weep with joy upon reading your query/synopsis/manuscript, then call you immediately afterward with a fat contract in hand.

5) Write a synopsis that highlights the brilliance of your book and a query letter that shows what an interesting, hard-working, affable, sane, and easy-to-get-along-with person you are.

6) Send the appropriate packages (you'll know EXACTLY what they want, since you've done the meticulous research required in step 4) to all five. In this case, five is NOT 'right out.'

7) In the many months you will wait to hear back from any of those fine, but beleaguered souls, repeat steps 1 through 6. Several times, if possible.

8) When the perfect agent calls, telling you that s/he's already shopped your manuscript around and has competing offers from a couple of different publishing houses, make sure to call your lawyer to ensure you get the very best deal you can. If you don't have one, you may use mine. He's spendy, but worth every penny. Drop those lawyer prejudices. Lawyers exist to promote and defend the rights of their clients. In this case, that means you.

9) Be willing to do your part in marketing your book. Visit your cousins in Kansas or your aunt in New Hampshire and set up signings and/or readings at the local bookstores there. Set up a professional-looking website and a cre8Buzz page so that your fans can have access to more of you. Make sure that you display to your agent the requisite enthusiasm for these chores; it will go a long way towards helping him/her convince the editor (who must then convince the publishing house's sales force) that you mean business. If you're on board, they'll be on board. Then get out there and work it, baby, work it. And hopefully the sales force will, too.

10) Be gracious in your success; be as kind and as generous as you can to fans, other writers, publishing staff, and reviewers (even if they trash your work). Acknowledge the help and support of family, friends, editors, agents, and anyone else who has helped you along the way. Do what you can to give back to the wonderful community that has gotten you this far. And savor the moment; you have earned it!

Back to NaNoWriMo I go, in search of my own best-seller....
Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:27 PM
The lovely and talented Dedee suggested that I write about global warming today. Another lighthearted and uplifting post written by the woman who ruined chocolate for you--say "Hallelujah," friends! You're in for a treat.

A better term for the phenomenon popularly called 'global warming' is 'global climate change,' since climatic effects are expected to grow more extreme (meaning that some places might get colder).

I am ill-equipped to address this topic properly; I'm tired, and I have a novel to write. (I don't mean to sound whiny, Dedee. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I was grateful that you asked. Really: thank you.)

I will tell you this, though. I believe, after much research over many years, that 1) global climate change IS a real problem; 2) that it HAS been caused in large part by people living in industrialized countries; and 3) that we DO have power--at least for a very short time RIGHT NOW--to do something to reverse the situation before more disaster strikes.

I also believe that I'm not going to change anyone's mind about this issue. But you should know that even President Bush's head science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Marburger, stated in a recent interview with the BBC that global warming is a very real threat.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, is a great resource for those wanting to educate themselves. is another thoughtful site putting good science out in readable fashion.

I have to say, I don't understand why taking care of the earth is not a higher priority for people of my faith; I don't understand why the majority of LDS Americans still support a president who has undermined environmental policy at every turn.

I believe that God has given us everything we have, asking that we show our love for Him by valuing His gifts and taking good care of them. We're not doing that.

"In the name of 'progress' and 'growth,' we have plundered our planet and despoiled our environment....Many of our environmental problems arise from the fact that our society has become obsessed with materialism...this reflects a misinterpretation by conventional Judeo-Christian philosophers of God's injunction to Adam about subduing the earth....The reason we are in trouble ecologically is because of our inability to see ourselves as a part of nature. We have not seen ourselves for what we are: part of the web of life and part of the biological community; a portion of an incredibly complex ecological system; and intimately a part of the total environment. The serious ecological problems which face us have as their basis a disordered spirituality." --A. B. Morrison, "Our Deteriorating Environment," Ensign, Aug. 1971, 64

I've read two books in recent months written by Christians very concerned about ecology: Pollution and the Death of Man, by Francis Schaeffer, and Serve God, Save the Planet, by J. Matthew Sleeth. These two men show very plainly that taking care of the earth is clearly outlined in the Bible as the responsibility of humankind.

People of other faiths agree:

"The earth we inherit is in danger; the skies and the seas, the forests and the rivers, the soil and the air, are in peril. And with them humankind itself is threatened. As earth's fullness has been our blessing, so its pollution now becomes our curse. As the wonder of nature's integrity has been our delight, so the horror of nature's disintegration now becomes our sorrow."--Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations

"In the Koran, God said that He created nature in a balance or mizam, and that it is mankind's responsibility to maintain this fragile equilibrium," says Richmond-based Islamic leader Dr. Imad Damaj. "We cannot maintain it by blaming each other, but must do so by working together." (quote from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

"Despite significant variations among the different Buddhist traditions that have evolved over its 2,500 year journey throughout Asia and now in the West, Buddhists see the world as conjoined on four levels: existentially, morally, cosmologically, and ontologically....Although the Buddhist doctrines of karma and rebirth link together all forms of sentient existence in a moral continuum, Buddhist ethics focus on human agency and its consequences. The inclusion of plants and animals in Buddhist soteriological schemes may be important philosophically because it attributes inherent value to nonhuman forms of life. Nonetheless, humans have been the primary agents in creating the present ecological crisis and will bear the major responsibility in solving it." --"Buddhism and Ecology: Challenge and Promise," Donald K. Swearer, Harvard University

"Hinduism and Jainism offer unique resources for the creation of an earth ethic. The variegated theologies of Hinduism suggest that the earth can be seen as a manifestation of the goddess (Devi) and that she must be treated with respect; that the five elements hold great power; that simple living might serve as a model for the development of sustainable economies; and that the concept of Dharma can be reinterpreted from an earth-friendly perspective. The biocosmology of Jainism presents a worldview that stresses the interrelatedness of life-forms. Its attendant nonviolent ethic might easily be extended to embrace an earth ethics. Both traditions include a strong emphasis on asceticism that might discourage some adherents from placing too much value on earthly concerns, but, as we have seen, Hinduism and Jainism both contain concepts that can lead to the enhancement of core human-earth relations." --"Hinduism, Jainism, and Ecology," Christopher Key Chapple, Loyola Marymount University

There's so much more to write; this topic is overwhelmingly huge. I could spend months on it alone and not exhaust the nuances of the issue: aspects of the problem; evidence from all over the planet; ethics; solutions both societal and individual. But I have the proverbial miles to go before I sleep, so I'll quit now. Thanks for your patience.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:20 AM

Today's topic comes from the brilliant Bub and Pie. She said she'd been trying to write a post about the fact that children are not all the same, but hadn't been successful, so why didn't I give it a go?


Bub and Pie consistently produces posts full of THE most insightful observations on children, parenting, literature, and life. Often I'll finish reading her daily offering and wonder how on earth she did it. She is a Bear of Very Big Brain. So if she feels frustrated by a topic, I'm betting my chances of success in the endeavor are roughly slim to none.

But rules are rules, especially when they are self-imposed. The NaBloPoMo Scavenger Hunt must go on.

I have five kids, so take it from me: each child is unique. Each is motivated by different things; each has his or her own challenges. Right now, for example, we're trying to potty train Daniel. He's happy to go in the toilet when we ask him to, but he hasn't yet progressed to self-initiation.

Always before, I've had a baby around to give the training child a concrete contrast. I could say, "James is a baby. He wears diapers. But you're a big boy; you wear big boy underwear and go in the potty." Somehow this ploy isn't nearly as effective when the baby I reference belongs to a neighbor and not to our household.

The prospect of being able to sport Superman, Batman, or Spiderman underwear doesn't motivate Daniel in the least. Promising a reward of a gummi shark is slightly more effective, but only when he's hungry.

I've always been a fan of letting kids train themselves when they are old enough, but Daniel is almost three and a half. My timetable is looking better all the time. Today Daniel has been walking around with no pants on at all. So far we've had success, but we're going to have to leave the house at some point, and it's cold out. We'll see how it goes.

I've taught my older four kids to read. Each one has approached breaking the code in a slightly different way, though I've used the same system for each. Hope is a visual learner; Tess is much more auditory. James looked for systems and patterns in the ways words were constructed; Christian relied on memorization. The amazing thing is that they all have strengths and weaknesses, but they all were able to figure out how to do it, and how to do it well. The older three are all reading far above grade level, and Tess is making great progress.

It's a rule in our house that every kid has to learn how to play the piano well enough to play the hymns at church; that's our minimum requirement. (We don't have paid pianists or organists, or paid clergy, for that matter, at our church; all the members take turn pitching in to help where and when they can.)

So once each child is reading well, they start piano lessons. Christian has been taking lessons for almost seven years; James for four, and Hope for two (Tess will start in January). They've all had the same great teacher who has used the same instruction books with them; they all practice for roughly the same amount of time each day. But if I were to put out a song that all of them could play with ease, then leave the room, I could tell which one sat down at the piano just by listening. They each have a different touch, an individual default of expression. Their very different personalities come out in their music, making the song as individual as a fingerprint.

(I should add here that Christian can play the hymns well, and regularly accompanies the singing at church meetings. The tricky twist is that once you can play hymns, you're good enough to play a lot of other cool stuff, too, and the begging to quit ceases almost completely.)

I love that my kids all have strong and distinct personalities. It never gets dull around here, I can promise you that. It's a fine line to walk between valuing their individual strengths and pigeonholing them; I try to remain open to change and growth and surprising new developments with them all, because I don't ever want them to feel trapped under the weight of my expectations.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:18 AM
I'm really not kidding. I won't be offended if you leave right now and move to the next blog on your "Favorites" list. You may be really, really sorry if you continue reading. Kids under 18, I really want you to go away now; I don't want your parents harassing me later.

Still here? Okay. But I warned you. Don't give me any grief in a comment once you're done here.

According to my Scavenger Hunt spreadsheet, Pezmama gets a rest for a while starting tomorrow. Today, though, her burning question is this: why have both an Almond Joy and a Mounds candy bar? Why not combine the two?

It's something I have often wondered myself. I've come to the conclusion that there are some people who have strong preferences regarding dark and milk chocolate. The decision to have the almond paired with the milk chocolate version seems to somewhat arbitrary, but no doubt the Peter Paul company did some sort of market research into the situation.

I enjoy both milk and dark chocolate, so I find both delicious. If he hasn't heeded my warning and is still reading, poor Patrick is now shuddering. He loathes and despises coconut, but I LOVE it. I prefer Almond Joy to Mounds, since the almond adds that toasty, nutty crunch to the experience, but I have never had a problem eating a Mounds if that's all there was left in the Halloween bag.

Until now.

I don't know if I'll ever eat an Almond Joy again. Or a Snickers or MnMs or a genuine Toll House cookie. I recently read some shocking news on Bitsy Parker's excellent blog (links will come when I get home). Hoping what she'd written wasn't true, I did a bunch of independent research, and I can now confirm her report.

Have you ever wondered why chocolate is so cheap? Why you can dash into a 7-11 and buy a chunk of cocoa-filled goodness for less than a dollar? Maybe you haven't; maybe you've just taken inexpensive deliciousness for granted as a basic human right.

But speaking of human rights, it turns out that virtually all mainstream chocolate--that produced by the Big Four: Mars, Inc., The Hershey Company, Cadbury Schweppes, and Nestle--is made at least in part with cocoa beans grown, harvested, and processed by slaves in West Africa. A little more research revealed that my beloved See's is also a buyer of slave-produced cocoa.

Worse, many of the slaves are children, children who have been sold by their parents to the plantation owners for a few dollars. Or they've been lured off the streets with promises of bicycles and high wages, but once they reach the cacao farms, these children are horribly abused and malnourished and live short, horrifying lives of backbreaking work and despair.

Reports by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization confirm this. The BBC did a documentary on the problem in 2000, and the next year The Philadelphia Inquirer put out a series of articles on the horrors of slave chocolate as well.

After some limited public outcry, the Big Four agreed to a four-year plan called the Harkin-Elgin Protocol to eliminate child slave labor from the cacao industry. But according to many human rights groups, that deadline has come and gone, with the big chocolate doing little, if anything, to keep their agreements. Crocodile tears have been shed, but not much has changed.

What are we chocolate lovers to do? The only way to be sure that your chocolate hasn't come to you at the expense of slave labor is to make sure it says "Fair Trade" on the packaging. Fair Trade cocoa has been produced by workers paid a living wage and who are housed decently.

Believe me: I know this news is depressing. When I first read about it, I wanted my ignorance back, because knowledge brings accountability. It's tempting to make a disconnect, to try and forget about the tragic reality so that I can satisfy my base desire for sensual gratification in the form of an Almond Joy.

Then I think about the cotton plantation owners in this country 150 years ago, living with the evils of slavery but unwilling to make changes to their lifestyles because they didn't want to sacrifice their comfortable way of life. We look back at those slaveowners with horror and disgust, but are we any better when we support the slave industry one step removed? In a way, it's worse to be the disconnected consumer, because we then add hypocrisy to our list of sins in the matter. Most of us would never beat a child or force him to sleep on a wooden plank in a padlocked shack with a tin can for a urinal. But how many of us will continue to turn a blind eye when a craving hits us?

Again, l'll post all the links to the reports I've read once I'm home. Until then, do an internet search of your own, if you feel up to further shock. It's not pretty, and you may never be able to look an MnM in the eye again--at least not until drastic change comes to the chocolate industry. Which will not happen until you and I stand up and vote with our dollars.