Thursday, December 28, 2006

Those of you in Utah have almost certainly heard about the mother and two children killed by a drunk driver on December 24. Cheryl Ceran, 15-year-old Ian and 7-year-old Julianna died in the accident. The remaining family members, Gary and his two children, 19-year-old Clarissa and 12-year-old Caleb, spoke to the Deseret News this week. I'm including a link to the article for two reasons.

First, because I know Clarissa and Caleb. Two years ago I performed in the LDS church presentation of "Savior of the World." During the months of rehearsals, the cast was separated into "families" of between 5-7 members. We were staged together as families and spent lots of time talking during rehearsals. Clarissa and Caleb were in my family. I loved them both from the moment I met them. I knew their mother a little and watched Julianna, 5 at the time, run around the green room during performances while her siblings were on stage.

Second, because I've rarely read a piece filled with more faith and hope and true charity than this one. Gary Ceran says that during the first 24 hours, when they were flooded by more than 500 visitors, he kept wondering who was praying for the young man who was in prison. This is a family I desire to emulate.

I will continue praying for them, especially Clarissa who is a dance major at BYU and whose legs were badly injured in the accident. The link to the story is below.,1249,650218223,00.html

Sunday, December 24, 2006

What To Say About A Christmas Gift You Don't Like
(Not original to me)

10. Hey! There's a gift!

9. Well, well, well ...

8. Boy, if I had not recently shot up 4 sizes that would've fit.

7. This is perfect for wearing around the basement.

6. Gosh. I hope this never catches fire! It is fire season though. There are lots of unexplained fires.

5. If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!

4. I love it -- but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.

3. Sadly, tomorrow I enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

2. To think -- I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.

And the Number One Thing to say about a Christmas gift you don't like:1. "I really don't deserve this."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


WHY can a five-year-old go from dancing around and perfectly happy to throwing up in the car ten minutes later?

WHY can that five-year-old be holding an open plastic bag and still manage to throw up only on himself?

WHY do I have mono for the third time? Right before Christmas?

WHY did I lock myself out of my cold storage room?

WHY are all the Christmas presents in the cold storage room?

WHY haven't I read a really fabulous book lately? WHY do the ones I've read either confuse me or bore me?

WHY do I not feel the slightest guilt about buying pre-made sugar cookies, ready for my kids to decorate? Am I missing a piece of Mormon mom DNA?

WHY are newborns so intoxicating? WHY am I so lucky to have a brand-new niece (my first!) right before Christmas?

WHY do I love my family so much?

WHY am I as excited for Christmas as my children?


Friday, December 08, 2006


Last night was my favorite book club meeting of the year, the dinner where we plan what we'll be reading for the year to come. Good food, good friends, lots of good books to anticipate . . . topped off by cheesecake and chocolate!

We're beginning our 8th year as a book club. (By the way, we've been looking for a good name for a long time--any suggestions, please comment!) Fourteen members, five of us original. The first couple of years, we didn't plan more than a month in advance. We calendared who would be hosting a given month, and then the host would have full discretion of what we read. The second year, we assigned themes to each month (YA, mystery, biography, classic) and let the host choose within those themes.

At the end of two years, we needed a radical change. We were reading far too many self-help books, far too many depressing books, and far too many books that made us feel bad about ourselves as mothers. Thus was born our December tradition.

On the first Thursday of December, we meet for dinner. Every member who wishes brings recommendations. We sell our books, much like editorial meetings in a publishing house, and then we vote by secret ballot. The eleven books with the most votes are on our schedule for the next year.

There have been slight modifications to this system over the years. For one, we now ask that every book you recommend be one you have actually read. (This after the disaster of a book that shall remain unnamed which we chose because "it sounded really interesting." It wasn't. It was one of only two books I haven't finished in book club. Both of those books had the word "Red" in the title. Coincidence?) For another, we now limit recommendations to two or three per person. This avoids having those who read more than others dominating the choices. I plead the fifth on whether I am one of those :)

The selling of our books is not for the fainthearted. As we've grown closer to each other, we've grown more outspoken as well. One book that made it on to this year's list (no, I'm not telling which one) I don't like at all. Presenters are peppered with questions and comments. "It sounds like a soap opera." "I don't like science fiction." "What exactly is a changeling?" But it works. Each year we have a wide variety of genres, lengths, and subject matters. We never entirely agree. I don't think there's ever been a book that absolutely everyone loved or detested. (Except for the aforementioned unnameable one with "Red" in the title.) But watching everyone last night, laughing and enjoying themselves and each other, I was struck by how lucky I am to have a group of friends who trust each other so entirely that disagreement is never mistaken for a personal attack. (Okay, so there was the book-throwing incident. But I plead the fifth on that as well.)

Books for 2007:
Among the Hidden—Margaret Peterson Haddix
Freakonomics—Steven Levitt
Wuthering Heights—Emily Bronte
Stolen Child—Keith Donohue
The Chosen—Chaim Potok
Night—Elie Wiesl
Speak--Laurie Halse Anderson
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging—Louise Rennison
The Sparrow—Mary Doria Russell
The Four Feathers—A.E.W. Mason
Beekeeper’s Apprentice—Laurie R. King
Nobody Don’t Love Nobody—Stacey Bess

Monday, December 04, 2006


I had no idea these fun little information lists were called MeMe's--but it's certainly appropriate. Filling it in makes me feel like I'm four years old waving my hand in the air shouting, "Me! Me! Me! Ask me!" But it makes for an easy blog entry and I love all things Christmas.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate. With whipped cream. Or little marshmallows. Yes, I have very sophisticated tastes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Wraps. With the same paper everyone else in the house wraps with. My oldest son came to the rescue a few years ago when the second son asked about that coincidence. While my mind was still stuck on "Now what?", the oldest son said, "You don't think Santa can afford wrapping paper for every gift, do you? He uses the wrapping paper at whatever house he's at."

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Ah, a true example of marital diplomacy. I'm for colored lights, my husband is for white. So we two trees, one of each. And house lights? Are you kidding? Not as long as my husband holds his current job, in which November and December are his busiest months.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, but I'm gonna! Right over my bed :)

5. When do you put your decorations up? Day after Thanksgiving.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Honeybaked Ham. It's yummy and requires nothing more of me than providing it refrigerator space.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: Coming down the stairs every Christmas morning. The tree was in the living room right off the stairs, so my dad made us come down single file with our eyes closed so we could turn to the left and go into the family room and open our stockings first before we saw the tree and presents.

8. How and when did you learn the truth about Santa? What truth? There's a truth? Fingers in my ears: "Nah, nah, nah, nah . . . I'm not listening."

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Mrs. Claus brings us pajamas. (She also wraps with our household gift wrap.)

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Two trees: one white lighted and elegant, with glass angels and silver and blue snowflakes and glittery balls; one color lighted and sentimental, with all the kids' handmade ornaments and olive wood ornaments from my husband's trip to Jerusalem and the felt and plush ornaments made my grandmother that used to hang on my family's tree when I was a little girl.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Depends on whether I have to drive in it.

12. Can you ice skate? No. And I don't plan to. Some things should probably not be attempted after the age of 35.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? As a child: the year I was 12 and my dad gave me pierced earrings. It was his way of giving me permission to get my ears pierced. As an adult: my husband always surprises me with wonderful things. A laptop two years ago. A new cell phone last year. A diamond solitaire pendant on New Year's Eve 2000 (that's close enough to count as Christmas, right?)

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Watching my children and making people happy.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Trifle. Or the newly-discovered Raspberry Cream Cheese pie that I'm making for Christmas Eve this year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Opening gifts one at a time on Christmas morning. After watching my 8-year-old daughter tear through her birthday gifts last week in 45 seconds flat, the wisdom of doing one present, one person at a time was reinforced. It makes Christmas last longer, everyone gets to see what the others receive, the giver enjoys the experience of the givee, and we can savor each individual gift.

17. What tops your tree? Both trees are topped by silver, three-dimensional stars.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Giving. But I don't mind receiving, either :)

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? For the True Meaning of Christmas: "O Come All Ye Faithful" as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel. Strictly for fun: "The Twelve Days After Christmas."
"The first day after Christmas,
My true love and I had a fight.
And so I chopped
The pear tree down
And burnt it just for spite.
And with a single cartridge
I shot that blasted partridge
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me."
And on from there, through boiled French hens and gold rings that turn green and one particularly cute drummer.

Friday, December 01, 2006


CHILDREN OF GOD by Mary Doria Russell: a follow-up to THE SPARROW, which you all should know by now is one of my favorite books ever. In this book, Emilio leaves the priesthood, falls in love, prepares to marry--and ends up back on Alpha Centauri without his consent. Because of the time it takes to travel, more than fifty years have passed by the time he arrives to find that one of the party they thought lost actually survived. Civil war has erupted, the oppressed have become the oppressors, and Emilio struggles for personal redemption in the midst of negotiating a better future. A satisfying conclusion to the characters and story from THE SPARROW.

CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon: I grew curious about this book about after the Salt Lake County Council caused a firestorm by choosing it as a countywide adult book selection. Yes, there is swearing in this book. Yes, there is the f-word. But honestly, after all the criticism I'd read in local papers, I was surprised to find how little it actually appeared. It didn't bother me, and the story itself is quite interesting. Told from the POV of an autistic teenager who finds the body of a dog on his neighbor's lawn. He decides to detect what happened, which leads him into secrets about his own family and a terrifying journey to London. The most compelling part of this book is the look at the world through someone who processes everything differently than I do. I recommend it for that experience.

BLADE OF FORTRIU by Juliet Marillier: my favorite fantasy author, Marillier writes fantasy set in actual historical times and places. This is the second in her trilogy about the Picts in southern Scotland in about 500 A.D. Like all second acts, this one has several different storylines going--from King Bridei who is about to launch an ambitious attack to retake Pictish land from the Dalriadans (Irish) to his most trusted spy, Faolan, whose current job is to deliver a royal bride to a secretive forest leader in order to cement a treaty. The focus is on Faolan and Ana, the bride, and the mysteries they uncover while at her betrothed's court. Marillier has never disappointed me yet, and my only regret in finishing this book is that I'm not Australian, where the third book became available in September. I, alas, shall have to wait until May.

FALLS THE SHADOW by Sharon Kay Penman: the second in the trilogy that began with HERE BE DRAGONS (see last month's reads.) This is primarily the story of Simon de Montfort, the rebel baron who married Henry III's sister, Nell, lived an indecently happy 27 years with her, fathered seven children, and led England into its first serious rebellion for the people's rights. He defended the Magna Carta, demanded that the king be subject to its principles, and believed that rulers were responsible to their subjects. He was also arrogant, unforgiving, inflexible, and unlucky. His rapid rise, capped by the miraculous battle of St. Albans, was succeeded by a dramatic fall, ending with his death at Evesham in battle against the army of Prince Edward, later Edward I. His body was mutilated, his head and limbs hacked off and sent around the country as battle prizes. One son died with him, one was dangerously wounded but later escaped to France, the son who failed to get to his father in time with a relief army never forgave himself. His wife, Nell, held Dover Castle for three months against the king's army before accepting surrender and fleeing to France with her only daughter. I knew next to nothing about Simon de Montfort before reading this book, and now he's one of the men I admire most.

THE DEVIL'S FEATHER by Minette Walters: a Reuters reporter thinks there are links between serial murders in Sierra Leona and Iraq. She suspects a former British soldier and begins researching the story. The day she is set to leave Iraq, she is kidnapped and held for three days. When she is released, she refuses to speak about her capture, fleeing to England where she rents a quiet house in the country to escape the questions of reporters and her parents. But quiet English houses have their own secrets and she's soon thrown into the mystery of an old woman's being left to die in the cold. And what happened to her in Iraq most definitely doesn't stay in Iraq, for some demons cannot be outrun, only outfought. Powerful psychological novel of fear and hostages, though I was mildly disappointed in the very ending which leaves unanswered the question of what really happened to the bad guy.

AMERICAN GOSPEL by Jon Meacham: this book was given to me by a neighbor. I usually avoid all poltical/religious/current events topics, since I deplore rigidity and intolerance. But this non-fiction piece, by the current editor of Newsweek magazine, was a pleasant surprise. Meacham goes back to the founding of America to uncover the Founder's real thoughts and intentions in the separation of church and state. Using contemporary sources, Meacham makes an excellent case for our current society having strayed too far on both sides of the debate of where religion belongs in public life. I enjoyed this thoroughly.

UNDERWORLD/RECALLED TO LIFE/ARMS AND THE WOMEN by Reginald Hill: another orgy of the Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries. Now I'm all caught up with the series, and have to wait until spring for a new one! I definitely prefer Hill's later entries in the series, which get deeper and more complex, both in plot and character. My favorite of these three was ARMS AND THE WOMEN which deals with a threat to Pascoe's wife, Ellie. The police believe it's some bad guy from Pascoe's policing past come to threaten him, so Ellie takes her daughter and retreats to the country at Pascoe's insistence. Unfortunately, Ellie is the true target and she's just put herself straight into the middle of the most dangerous situation of her life. Ending with a killer storm that literally sends a building falling into the sea, I liked it tremendously. Although I still don't like Ellie Pascoe and wish her husband had chosen a wife with more care ;)

HISTORIES OF THE HANGED by David Anderson: I bought this for my husband before our trip to Kenya last June. A history of the British colonization in East Africa, beginning in 1900, and an examination of the events leading up to the Mau Mau rebellion, the most serious and bloody colonial rebellion against Britain in the 20th-century. It helped bring independence to Kenya, but at an awfully high cost in both African lives and British ethics. There's plenty of blame to go around here--from the Mau Mau rebels who killed women and children without compunction to the British justice system which pretty much threw out the concept of rule of law and, well, justice. THE HANGED are those who were executed by colonial courts with occasionally less than circumstantial evidence. No one really comes out looking great, except perhaps Jomo Kenyatta, who endured years of imprisonment before becoming Kenya's first president.

ARTEMIS FOWL AND THE LOST COLONY by Eoin Colfer: I'm an Artemis Fowl fan and I don't apologize :) In this newest installment of the Irish boy genius who used to be a criminal mastermind, Artemis stumbles upon the fact that a lost colony of demons is breaking down and may soon disappear altogether. With the help of Holly Short, Foaly, Butler, and a pretty and equally brilliant 12-year-old girl, Artemis must make a dreadful sacrifice to save the colony. I did not expect the end of this book, was very surprised in a good way (unlike so many of the YA books I've read this year), and can see that Colfer is ready to take a leap with this series. I can't wait until the next one.