Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

May you and your family have a peaceful, joyous Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas at Crossroads

Tonight I went to Christmas at Crossroads with some close friends and their three kids. We had a blast! If you've never been there, Crossroads Village is a mini-Greenfield Village with 34 historical buildings from all over Michigan assembled into and 1800s farming community, including a carousel, a railroad, and a paddlewheel boat on Mott Lake. For Christmas everything is covered in lights, there are crafts, a music show, and other activities. The only thing missing this year was snow.

We enjoyed walking around the village, admiring the lights, riding the carousel, talking to the Blacksmith, and riding the train. The train ride is about 45 minutes, with lighted decorations to see along the way. The conductor narrates the tour and we sang along with the Christmas carols during the turn-arounds.

We ended the evening by attending a concert in the Opera House. To my delight, the musicians were The Collecting Consort (Anne & Gary Wakenhut). I love hammered dulcimer and Irish harp music, so I bought one of their Christmas albums last year in Traverse City on a whim. I love it so much it's on my iPod, my laptop, and in my living room stereo. What a nice surprise that we got see their last show of the season at Crossroads! It was a half-hour show that included music and storytelling. HK and I really enjoyed it and even talked to Anne afterwards to thank her.

Every year I say I'm going to get to Crossroads and this year I finally did. It was a fun, Christmassy evening and I'm so glad I went! If you would like to go, it's not too late. Normally you have to walk around the village but on Monday nights and Christmas Eve (5-9 p.m.) you can drive through to see the beautiful lights. After that the village will be open to pedestrians Dec. 27-30 (4-9 p.m.).

Friday, December 22, 2006

Saffron the Cookie Thief

My little orange cat, Saffron, loves people food. She will eat just about anything we eat and begs any time we are in the kitchen. Her favorites are chicken, turkey, steak, pork, cheese, and potatoes of any kind, especially Arby's homestyle fries. What I didn't know until recently is that she will do anything for sugar cookies!

A couple of weeks ago, I made Michigan-shaped cookies for Roger's Michigan History class. I have lower- and upper-peninsula-shaped cookie cutters and between those and Pillsbury, I had cookies in no time. I put the first batch on wax paper on the kitchen table to cool. When I went to take the second batch out of the oven I heard a "Mur" (Saffron's most frequent vocalization) and looked over to see her standing on a chair, her front paws on the kitchen table, licking a cookie! I was stunned. She's never done that before! I nearly burned the second batch chasing her away from the first one. Needless to say, the cookie she licked was then hers alone. (Yes, I know I reinforced bad behavior.) I probably haven't made cookies since last Christmas, so decided that maybe they were just a novelty that she found interesting.

Today I made my grandma's date-filled sugar cookies. The dough is less sweet than regular sugar cookies but apparently Saffron's attraction to sugar cookies is not NOT a novelty. This time, while the cookies were cooling on wax paper, I sat between them and the buffet behind the kitchen table (where Saffron likes to perch). Poor Saffron paced up and down the buffet, begging for cookies and pawing me like a dog, but I was strong and didn't give her any cookies. Imagine my surprise when she leaped over me, over my laptop, and landed amist the cookies without touching anything in the process! I quickly scooped her off the table and put the cookies in a Rubbermaid container. She's not dumb; every time we open that container she appears, begging for sugar cookies. She wins. Like everything else I eat, I give her a tiny bit. I just wonder how a cat who eats so much never gains weight. Must be nice!

My friend's cat, Mia, loves Twinkies (the cake, not the creamy filling), but I had no idea sugar cookies were so appealing to cats!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. It may be the first day of winter, but it doesn't feel like it! Despite the warm weather, I'm still hoping for a white Christmas.

Welcome to winter in Michigan! If you don't like weather, just wait a few minutes, it will change.

Beautiful Manistee

After leaving Chicago, we went to Manistee, MI. For those who are not familiar with our state, Manistee is a Victorian port city on Lake Michigan, between Ludington and Traverse City. According to the Cities Unlimited web site the population of Manistee is similar to Davison, but Manistee is bigger, older, and tourist-oriented. We drove through on our way home from Traverse City in early Oct. and wanted to go back and explore this pretty little town.

We enjoyed the downtown stores and I was especially delighted with the Manistee County Historical Museum. It's in an old store front and is remniscient of an old-fashioned general store, only better! Here's a map, and picture of the building, and a link to their impressive genealogy collection.

The entrance fee is only $2 and you can wander around by yourself, or a volunteer will show you the exhibits. A nice man showed us around and I was glad because he told us a lot about the special Christmas exhibits. The Christmas exhibits are so popular that the museum's busiest months are July, August, and December.

The main room, which looks like a general store, featured a Victorian Christmas tree. The oil lights had been converted to electric but there were still some (unlit) clip-on candles to convey the sense of what the original tree looked like. In keeping with the German tradition, the full-sized tree was sitting on table:

Under the tree is the "putz" or Christmas Garden which features the Nativity:

In America we changed the tradition: we put the tree on the floor and updated the village to reflect a Victorian or modern look, often with trains:

I never knew that this German tradition was the origin of our ceramic Christmas village!

After visiting the museum we had a delicious Italian lunch at the Tuscan Grille, then visited one of the downtown antique stores before driving home. It was a nice getaway but we were tired and glad to get home, where our cats were very glad to see us (despite good care from their human grandparents).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

King Tut

Today we visited the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit at The Field Museum. Although it did not include the famous gold mask, sarcophagus, etc., it was still well worthwhile.

The exhibit started with a short video and the first few rooms explained Egypt in Tut's time. These rooms features artifacts of Tut's parents and grandparents. For those who know little about Egyptology it might be overwhelming, but people were taking their time, reading everything, and pouring over the artifacts. It was elbow-to-elbow standing room only, sometimes several people deep. The man who sold us our tickets said 10,000 people had been there ahead of us, so apparently this exhibit is always crowded!

I like seeing Tut's family's stuff, but Tut's treasuers were the best. I can't remember everything we saw but we liked the pectoral amulets, dagger, diadem, walking sticks, gold box with engraved scenes of Tut and Ankhsenamen, the cosmetic box with a lion on the lid, box with carrying sticks, the golden coffinette (which once contained Tut's liver), Akhenaten's head from his collosus at Karnak, and the forsenic analyses. The latter included Tut's facial reconstruction based on CT scans of his skull. It also included the latest theory about his cause of death (a broken bone and subsequent infection), so the info was very current!

As an amateur Egyptologist, words escape me when I try to tell you how much I enjoyed this exhibit. I've seen much of Tut's stuff in books and on TV but actually seeing it is a completely different experience, even if you can't touch anything. When you think about how old it all is, it's amazing that it looks brand-new and you can't help but wonder how they could make such exquisite things with what we consider primative tools. Then, when you realize Tut died unexpectedly at a very young age, you wonder how they got so much done in time for his burial, and what must the tomb of an old King, with many years to prepare his tomb goods, have looked like? It's just mind-boggling.

The Field Museum has a nice exhibit web site, but I don't know how long it will remain active. National Geography has permanent Tut exhibit site, which isn't surprising since we noticed they produced the exhibit catalog/book and DVD. After the 70s they said Tut's stuff would never leave Egypt again, so if you get a chance to see this exhibit, be sure to do so!

The Field Museum itself it worth the trip to Chicago. This was my second visit and I still haven't seen it all. I like the Egpytian exhibit, the dinosaurs, and the labs where you can watch scientists at work (it is a working musuem). We are planning another trip so we can spend a couple of days enjoying The Field Museum and The Museum of Science and Industry.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Night in Chicago

We are in Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum (more about that tomorrow). Tonight we are staying at the Hotel Blake in downtown Chicago. It a great location! It's in Printer's Row, minutes from the Loop, the Magnificent Mile, museums, and more. We can see the beautiful Chicago Public Library from the hotel. It's hard to miss:

The Hotel Blake is three-and-a-half star hotel in what used to be the Morton Salt building. According to the Hotel-Rates web site, it's done in modern decor remniscient of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie School. I don't like modern, but this is classy and attractive.

Our room is not the $500 a night kind but it is nice. It has a full-sized desk, an armchair with a footstool, a very comfy bed with a down comforter and bench at the foot, a plasma TV, a cordless phone, another phone in the marble bathroom, and an iHome clock radio with an iPod dock! I've always wanted to stay in the kind of hotel that includes bathrobes, but when I saw the iPod dock, I forgot all about the bathrobes! Needless to say, the first thing I did was see it my Nano worked with it -- and it did. :)

After we got settled in our room, we decided to walk around the neighborhood before dinner. We headed up State St. to the Loop where there are lots of stores. I was impressed with the Macy's. It reminds me of the actual department stores I vaguely remember in downtown Flint before everything moved to the mall, but it was even better, and huge! Not only is it multi-floored and beautifully decorated for Christmas inside and out, it connects to an underground pedestrian walkway, similar to the underground mall in Toronto. Speaking of Christmas decorations, downtown Chicago is stunning at this time of year. Even the subway entrances are decorated! I took this picture from our car, so it's a bit blurry, but you get the idea:

We ate dinner at Custom House, Hotel Blake's restaurant. It's a gourmet restaurant "showcasing a delightful fusion of contemporary American cuisine and Mediterranean influences," according to their web site. It was expensive but definitely worth it! For our appetizer we had steak tartar which I've always been curious about but never tried. It came with poached eggs the size of Robin's eggs and a basil sauce; it was incredibly delicious! For our entrees, Roger had roasted lamb and potato fingers with Black Truffle essence; I got the New York strip steak with sun-roasted tomatoes and Pommes Anna (thinly sliced potatoes with bacon). All were outrageously good and far more than we could eat. Their breakfast menu looks equally delicious and equally expensive, so I think we'll have breakfast elsewhere tomorrow.

Update Dec. 22: I added a picture of the choo-choo decorating a subway entrance. I also realize I forgot to mention that when we were walking aroud in the Loop we passed the Palmer House Hilton where I attended an academic conference a few years ago. I didn't know it then, but it's where my Uncle Jim stayed for Army basic training during WWII; they did their calisthenics in the nearby park.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Celebrations Everywhere

Yesterday was a day of full of Christmas celebrations.

In the morning I attended the Christmas program (a contada) at my friend's church. It was a beautiful program that included adults and children and I really enjoyed it.

Last night I went to St. John's to see the living nativity. Kids dressed as Mary, Joseph, an Angel, Wise Men, and Shepherds -- and the shepherds had a real live donkey and several sheep! It was warm enough that they didn't have to wear coats or snowmobile suits under their costumes so it looked really great.

Inside the church there was a display of nativity sets from around the world. Some families brought very old and cherished sets to display. There were crowns for kids who wanted them, so the living nativity had many more than three Wise Men, but who cares? It was lots of fun.

I ended the day thinking what nice celebrations these were. Today I read an article published a few days ago in USA today, Gift of wreaths touches nation, about an even more touching celebration. I wish I were in Washington, D.C. so I could see it in person. The photos in the article are wonderful, but I'm sure they are a pale reflection of the real thing.

If you haven't thanked a soldier lately, you can do so on-line at Let's Say Thanks. It's too late to send Christmas cards to our servicemen and -women, but it's not to late to keep them in your prayers this Christmas season. Remember that while we celebrate a season of peace, love, and light, they remain on duty, protecting our freedom to do so.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Eating Tips

Yesterday I finished my Fall semester grading, turned in my grades, and returned all my students' papers. At first I was too tired and in too much pain from my #$%^& tennis elbow to feel relieved. Today it's slowing dawning on me that I'm FREE! I don't have the weight of a bzillion ungraded papers hanging over my head. Let the holidays begin!

To celebrate the holidays here's a cute e-mail I got from my niece:

Holiday Eating Tips

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy . Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it. Hellllo?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

I don't know who wrote it, but the advice is right on. Don't ruin your holidays trying to diet, just relax and enjoy yourself: you deserve it! Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Tragic Accident

After a three-year investigation, Scotland Yard concluded that Princess Diana's death was a tragic accident, not murder. You can download the full report in pdf format.

My heart goes out to Diana's sons who lost their mother far too soon, thanks to a mix of the French paparazzi, a drunk driver, and unused seatbelts.

I also feel sorry for Mohamed al Fayed who still believes Diana and his son, Dodi, were murdered. Maybe it's easier for him to believe than the awful truth: they might have survived if they had been wearing seatbelts; the crash probably would have not happened had the driver been sober; the chase wouldn't have occurred if not for the paparazzi.

Personally, I blame everyone involved. It was senseless of human life, one that will haunt Diana's sons for the rest of their lives. What a sad reminder of common sense: don't drink and drive and always wear a seatbelt.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas at the White House

Some year I want to go to Washington, D.C. to see the White House all decorated for Christmas. In the meantime, every year I enjoy pictures and any TV coverage of the holiday preparations. The gingerbread White House is always impressive! To see the decorations and for a quick link to Barney's Holiday Extravaganza (2006), visit Holidays at the White House.

For more on Barney and Miss Beazley, the Bushes' Scottish Terriers, visit Barney's page (and all the First Family's pets) in the Kids' section of the White House web site.

Barney Cam is a yearly holiday movie featuring Barney, Miss Beazley, Willie (aka Kitty), the President and Mrs. Bush, and members of their staff. Seeing the White House and its Christmas decorations from a Scottish Terrier's point of view is a hoot! This year's movie even has a transcript. Past Christmas videos and monthly photos are available on Barney's page.

Can you believe someone has a job taking pictures and making Christmas videos of the First Pets -- and it's not me?! I'd do it for free just to get to see the White House and play with the dogs!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Helping Hands

Yesterday I met a capuchin monkey named Gregory. He came to visit a linguistics class taught by one of my colleagues. Gregory has been to Monkey College and is trained to assist a disabled person but is retired due to health problems. In college he learned to cook food in the microwave, serve it, wash a human's face, brush a human's hair, and fetch and carry objects. He has a 500 word vocabulary and can provide love and companionship for 20-30 years.

I had never heard of this wonderful program, but if you would like to learn more visit Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. There is also a nice article in in Greater Boston: Monkeys Assist Disabled.

If you are looking for a charity to donate to this Christmas, this is a worthy cause!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Damn Weather!

I hate our weather. It's been warm, rainy, and dreary. The National Weather Service got my hopes up with a winter storm warning. Cold and snow at last! Except they were wrong (again). Instead of 5-9" we got ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Yes, it got cold enough to freeze all the rain, so the ground is now frozen and ready for snow, but the stupid snow went around us (again). I was disappointed to get a big snow on a weekend (thus missing a chance for a snow day), but no snow at all is even worse. I just want some pretty, Christmassy snow to cover up everything and look cheerful.

At least sun is shining today. It's much better than the weather had for November. Faced with another week of grading, followed by exam week (and even more grading), I need all the cheer I can get. I want some snow!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Season of Light

Happy Holidays! I had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday and hope you did, too. I got over my sinus infection, got caught up on my grading (except for research papers, which I saved for after Thanksgiving), and took four wonderful, relaxing days off!

As always, I put up my Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. Why fight the shopping crowds on Black Friday when you can do something fun and relaxing at home? Everything went great until I pulled out the net of lights I always put across our sliding door. The middle 2/3 went out and I couldn't get them to work.

Off to Target for new lights! Back home to find they were 6' and the sliding door is 8'. Back to Taget. No 8' lights of any kind. Off to Wal-Mart. No 8' lights of any kind. Agonize over the decision, then decide to brave Bronner's. Discover that most of the population of Michigan is in Birch Run and the rest are in Frankmuth. Deal with unbelievable crowds only to find no 8' lights of any kind.

After deciding no one makes 8' lightnets any more, I settled for two 6' nets that would overlap because after all that I wasn't leaving Bronner's without some kind of lights! They look better than I thought and I am pleased with them. They are the stay-lit kind so I'm hoping they last several years.

Now I'm facing the last two weeks of school. It's always hectic with lots of grading, meetings, panicky students, etc., but at least I have my beautiful Christmas decorations to brighten things up.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bo Schembechler 1929-2006

Bo Schembechler
Obit * Coaching Record

He was the "winningest" coach Michigan ever had. "He will always be both a Buckeye and a Wolverine and our thoughts are with all who grieve his loss," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.

Bo loved the U of M vs. Ohio State game. He no longer traveled to out of state games, so he wouldn't have been in Columbus tomorrow anyway, but I'm sure it will be a hell of a game. Both teams will play harder than usual, wanting to win for Bo -- and I'm sure Bo will be watching from the best seat in the house.

Rest in Peace, Bo. We'll always miss you at U of M.

UPDATE: Sun. Nov. 19

OSU 42, Michigan 39. When my time comes, I'm sure I will die from heart failure during the last two minutes of a Michigan game. It was SO close!

Bo's funeral is today. According to the Ann Arbor News the public is invited to attend a viewing at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, 12-3, today.

Tuesday "A Celebration of Bo's Life" will take place at 1:oo p.m. in at Michigan Stadium. (How appropriate!)

Memorial gifts can be made to support the Michigan Cardiovascular Center - Bo Schembechler Heart of a Champion Fund. Send contributions to:

UM Cardiovascular Center
300 N. Ingalls, #8B02
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Farewell Summer

It took 55 years, but Ray Bradbury, 86, has written a sequel to Dandelion Wine. I haven't read it yet but I'm looking forward to it! Read the review by Carole Goldberg.

I'm so glad you are still writing and inspiring us, Ray!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

To all our veterans, and to all servicemen and -women who are still on active duty, thank you for your service to our country and for fighting for our freedom. I'm just sorry most Americans only stop to thank you on patriotic holidays; you deserve our thanks every day for your sacrifices large and small.

Although the public seems to have forgotten, freedom isn't free. Or, to quote Sam Gamgee from The Two Towers (movie version), "there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fightin' for." The next time you see one of our veterans or servicemen/women, take the time to say thank you. There are lots of web sites where you can support our soldiers.

Operation Gratitude * Cards for Heroes * Letters from Home

If you know of any other good links to support our troops, let me know!

UPDATE Nov. 15. I just found this video in my e-mail and couldn't resist including it here:

Warning: Get out the Kleenex, especially if you've lost a loved one in the service.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

I am so glad today is election day! Not only do I get to exercise my right to vote, today means an end to the six or eight election phone calls we've been getting daily for the last few weeks. I don't know why they bother. I'm sure I'm not the only person who ignores such phone calls. I don't even listen to their annoying messages!

Did you vote today? I voted on my way to work. Isn't voting more fun nowadays, thanks to Al Gore? Instead of good, old poke-a-hole-in-the-punchcard-ballots we get to color in all the bubbles, and there were a lot of bubbles this time. I hope these scan-tron ballots aren't too sensitive. I always wonder if I filled in the bubbles completely enough and what happens if I go outside the lines a little? I try not to think about it; it takes long enough to just color in the bubbles without worrying about things like staying inside the lines.

I'm sure voting today took longer than the last election. I had to wait in line to get a ballot, then wait in line forever to get a booth. I don't know if the people ahead of me were reading all the proposals for the first time or just taking forver to color in the bubbles, but they sure took their time!

If you have not yet done so, go vote. Just be sure to color in the bubbles completely and stay inside the lines.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Disappointing Book from Elizabeth George

In today's paper I saw that Elizabeth George's new novel, What Came Before He Shot Her, is #7 and rising on The New York Times best-seller list. I wonder who is reading this book, because I'm sure not!

This is a prequal to the previous book in George's Inspector Lynley series, With No One as Witness, in which an important supporting character is killed. (No names mentioned in case you are still reading the rest of the series!) It's not Inspector Lynley or his sidekick Constable Havers, but it is someone close to them. The book ends with Lynley resigning from Scotland Yard and Havers uncertain about the future.

What Came Before He Shot Her
does nothing to advance the series storyline. Instead it's 600 wretched pages about the wretched life of the 12-year-old who killed the important supporting character. It's grueling, realistic, and awful beyond words. If you like torturing yourself with realistic fiction, you'll love it, but that's not why I read mysteries. Where is the sense of closure or justice?

Don't bother looking for your favorite characters, either. The important supporting character shows up for two pages (long enough to die), Havers and Sergeant N'kata show up for only two pages (in a scene from With No One as Witness), and Lynley doesn't even appear.

Don't mistake me: I like George's writing style and loved all of her previous books. That's what makes this one all the more disappointing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

No More Meerkats for Me!

It's over. I can't stand to watch Meerkat Manor any more. I love every one of those little critters and am still upset about the deaths of Shakespeare, Tosca, and little Bubble. Little Blossom's tragic death last night was the last straw.

Poor little Blossom, just one month old, wandered away from her family, exploring the world, and while she was just out of sight (hidden by the tall, summer grass) she was killed by a bird of prey. It was awful! I know one in four baby Meerkats don't make to adulthood, but I don't need to see why.

If anyone watches, keep me updated, but don't tell me if anybody dies!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

No Costume, No Candy

Last night I handed out candy to trick-or-treaters at my friends' house while they took their kids out trick-or-treating. I only have two rules. To get candy kids must:

1. Wear a costume
2. Say "Trick or Treat"

Older kids who don't have a costume can sing for their candy. You'd be surprised at how many just walk away instead! (At least two this year.) I only had one rude teenager who complained that he didn't like the candy. I told him he was out of luck. (The rude little @#$%^!)

My friend said some older boys were picking on her girls (ages 9 and 12) while they were trick-or-treating. She finally had to yell at him to leave the girls alone, but he backed off then. That's the only problem we had all night. Small potatoes compared to the number of arson fires in Flint last night.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I love seeing the little kids in their costumes, playing the scary music CDs, and re-living my own trick-or-treating days.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Poem from Goethe

Last Halloween I expressed my views on why Halloween is good, clean fun and not Satanic. Instead of repeating myself this year, I'd like to share a scary poem that scared me half to death as a kid:

The Erl-King by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I read that in elementary school, sometime between 2nd grade (age 7) and 5th grade (age 10) in a textbook and was haunted by it for many years. He's not just the Erl (elf) King, he's the Boogeyman! Who would put such a scary poem in an elementary schoolbook? (Someone who hates children, I'm sure.) Think about how horrifying it is from a kid's point of view: only the kid can see the Erl-King/Boogeyman and he kills the kid at the end! What a ghost story!

I hope you enjoy this scary little poem.

Have fun, safe, and happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lake Wobegon Days

Last night I saw Garrison Keillor's one-man show, Lake Wobegon Days, at the Whiting Auditorium in Flint. It was a wonderful show and I laughed until I cried. We had great seats: Row C in the orchestra section -- we were so close we could almost touch the stage but didn't break our necks like the people in the first two rows.

Keillor was dressed as I've often seen him (when his radio show is broadcast on TV): dark suit, white shirt, red tie, and red tennis shoes. Like this picture, except you can't see his shoes. :)

Keillor told several stories about the fictional Lake Wobegon and its Minnesotan Lutheran inhabitants. He started out with a story about baseball (in honor of the Tigers in the World Series), then told a story about his funny aunt who lived life to its fullest in her last years, and ended with a hysterically funny story that tied all these things together, along with other elements (including Bruno the fishing dog, 24 Lutheran ministers on a sinking pontoon boat, and a naked parasailing guy). I was especially impressed with the last story because it was so complex and funny and, despite those elements I'd heard before, fresh and entertaining. I love the way he can tell such a complex story without losing track of all the components and he always ties them together in the end, even things the audience has forgotten about.

All together the show lasted for an hour and fifteen minutes and he got a standing ovation. He came out, bowed, and asked everyone to remain standing so we could do something we seldom get to do: sing our National Anthem. Around July 4th this year he wrote an article saying anyone could sing the National Anthem if it was in the key of G. He was right! What a nice way to end the evening.

If you've never heard
his radio show, visit A Prairie Home Companion's Official Web Site and scroll to bottom for the Complete Show Archive link. I'm disappointed that he doesn't do a free podcast of the weekly News from Lake Wobegon, but at least the archived shows on the web site are free (and you get the whole show).

Special thanks to SK for selling me her extra ticket to this fabulous show. You made my week!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Jesse the Hero

Today on CNN: Dog saves owner from fire, dies trying to rescue cat. I was touched by the sad story of this brave dog and feel very sorry for owner who survived but lost both pets. Extra hugs for my kitties today!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Like Father, Like Daughter

In the news today: Bindi Irwin gets own wildlife show. I admire the Irwins for going on with the show under such sad circumstances.

On a related note from a Sept. 27, 2006 interview: Widow: 'Croc Hunter' thought he'd die young. She thought he'd fall out of a tree, he thought it would be a car wreck. (I -- and probably the rest of the world -- figured it would be a crocodile or a great big snake.) Neither of them dreamed it would be a Stingray. It still really bothers me that he died from something so stupidly rare and not usually fatal. How tragic.

UPDATE: Oct. 19. A Florida man survived stingray stab in the chest because he didn't try to pull it out. I can only imagine how awful this must make Steve Irwin's family feel. You can't help but wonder "what if...?".

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Teaching Kids to Fight Back

Yesterday on Students taught to fight armed classroom invaders.

What the hell took so long?

I can't help but wonder if Columbine and other school massacres could have been avoided if students had fought back. Since 9/11/01 I've wondered if I would have been as brave as the passengers on Flight 93 who fought back. One thing I do know: if you are going to die anyway, you might as well try. At the very least you go down fighting, but if you are successful you can stop a tragedy in its tracks.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pumpkin Festival in the Snow

This weekend is Davison's Pumpkin Festival. I think it will be the first time we had snow at Pumpkin Fest! I doubt it will make a difference. Like the Festival of Flags, Homecoming, and the Santa Claus parade, attendance is always good despite the weather. Visit the City of Davison web site for a complete list of activities. (It's a nice web site! Much more info than the Chamber of Commerce.)

Now that we have a nice walking trail in the park, I'm surprised the Pumpkin Fest does not include a haunted trail walk. Maybe that's because all the other activities are downtown. I wouldn't be surprised if the Pumpkin Fest expanded some day and included activities all over town (like the Festival of Flags).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October Snow

We have it all today in mid-Michigan: near peak fall color, a freeze warning (for those of us looking forward to the end of ragweed), and snow. Yes, snow. It's unusual to get snow this early in this part of the state but in the upper Great Lakes they were getting a winter storm with 6-10 inches of snow, so our bit of snow is mild by comparison.

I tried to get a picture this moring but it didn't work. How can the snow not show up in a photo when the air is full of it? And it was full of snow -- we had white-out conditions several times today.

It's weird weather but I welcome winter. I caught myself humming "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" and smiling at the beautiful snow. It's so much better than dreary rain!

Monday, October 09, 2006


How much e-junk do you get? I have pretty good spam filters for my home and work e-mail accounts, so I'm not referring to ads for Viagra and the like. Today, after nearly missing an e-mail from my niece in a sea of junk, I unsubscribed from twelve (yes, twelve!) e-newsletters, sale bulletins, etc.

I knew I got a lot of crap but I didn't realize how much until I started unsubscribing. What's really scary is that although I unsubscribed from twelve e-newsletter and sale annoucements, I did keep about ten that I acutally want to receive (Land's End, Yankee Candle, etc.). I kept the ones that are sent only occassionally.

It will be interesting to see how much less junk I get now!

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Landmark

This is the newly-dedicated sulpture that celebrates our campus' 50th anniversary. Here's what it means, according to the official blurb:

"An outdoor sculpture commissioned by the Ruth Mott Foundation and the UM-Flint Alumni Society, and created through a partnership of local artists and community members, is part of the University's 50th anniversary celebration. The sculpture is designed to look like a large fingerprint from a distance-representing something unique to each person, regardless of race, creed, age or gender. Closer examination reveals that the work comprises cast porcelain pieces depicting the faces, quotes and signatures of historical and contemporary social reformers and civic icons. (Photo by Mel Serow, U-M-Flint)" More photos.

I intend no disrespect, but apparently modern art is lost on me. I thought it was just a big fingerprint behind some steps. I had no clue (until told) what it represents. What is the half-circle incomplete? What do the steps represent and where do they go? I can see how steps might represent the future, but I'm still wondering about that incomplete half-circle. (That will drive the engineer-types crazy!)

As a mystery-lover, I like the big fingerprint, but it reminds me of something and I can't figure out where I've seen it before. Hopefully, I'll remember eventually. In the meantime, since it's conveniently located between the theatre and the library, I'll have stop by and look for the porcelain bits in the fingerprint. Maybe that will help me figure out what it reminds me of, or at least give me a better idea about the meaning of the overall statue.

I suspect the real purpose of this thing is to give the students a place to lounge in the sun.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lost is Back!

Season 3 of Lost started with a bang last night. They did a good job of answering a few questions while raising many more. If they can maintain this quality all season, Season 3 will be the best yet.

I'm glad they are not doing lots of re-runs and clip shows this season. They are trying something new: a late start (Oct. 4), 6 weeks of new episodes, a holiday hiatus, then (in Jan.) nothing but new episodes every week. Woo hoo!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Meerkat Manor Season 2

It may come as a surprise to those who know I can't watch or read anything where animals die (like March of the Penguins or Eight Below), but I'm hooked on Meerkat Manor. It's the story -- real life and death events -- of the Whiskers Meerkat family in the Kalahari Desert on Animal Planet every Friday night a 8:00 p.m.

Cambridge University biologists have spent 10 years studying the Meerkats and the critters are acclimated to humans, allowing humans to film them inside and outside their burrows, weight them, water them, etc.

Of course, to make it easier for viewers to keep track of the Meerkats, the biologists have given them all names. Like other animals, each Meerkat has a distinct personality and they have a complex society. (I never realized how complex!) Viewers get to watch them hunt, have pups, grow up, and have wars with rival families. Yes, that includes tragic and/or untimely deaths but we never actually see them die or see the bodies (except for one poor pup). We care about the Whiskers but we also see how tough life is for them and how hard they have to work to survive.

At the end of Season 1 we were left wondering about the fate of courageous little Shakespeare, who single-handedly defended his family's pups against a raid by a rival Meerkat family. Shakespeare is a tough little guy. He survived two bites from puff adder (enough poison to kill a human) and he only weighs two pounds! He survived and was one of the Whiskers' best fighters, but also a compassionate babysitter who took good care of the pups.

We were also left to wonder about the fate of Tosca, the rebellious female who was cast out of the family after having pups without the permission of Flower (Tosca's mom and the alpha female). The family was too big, so Tosca had to go. Tosca's odds of surviving on her own are slim, as are her odds of being accepted back into the family, so if she doesn't start her own family or get accepted by another tribe she will die.

SPOILER ALERT. If you don't want to know the fates of Shakespeare and Tosca, stop reading now.

I was looking forward to Season 2, but was very disappointed to learn that Shakespeare was never seen again after defending the pups (who survived unharmed). Unfortunately, Tosca wasn't seen again after the winter, so she presumably died. Poor little Shakespeare and Tosca! The good news is: 1. we didn't actually see them die or see any bodies, and 2. although the narrator said Tosca is probably dead, he didn't actually use that word to describe Shakespeare. Although it's implied that he is dead, there is still hope. He's a tough little guy and I still hope he somehow made it!

The US Meerkat Manor site and the UK Meerkat Manor site have lots of info about meerkats and the Cambridge study. They even need volunteers -- if you can commit to a year in the desert. I'd love to volunteer (if they had very short stints) but I'd be horrible at it. Instead of objectively studying the Meerkats, I'd try to save them all from predators, prevent rival families from fighting, and feed them all. If I lived closer to the Fellow Earthlings' Wildlife Center, Inc. in California I'd adopt a Meerkat so I could visit my furry little friend nose-to-nose. :)

UPDATE Oct. 7: I may not be able to watch Meerkat Manor any more. I'm still upset about Shakespeare and Tosca and this week we saw a baby from the Lazuli family killed by the Commando family. Poor little Bubble was carried away, crying for help, then the Commandos descended on her and killed her.

I'm also worried about Mozart. She's Flower's oldest daughter (and an altruistic and loving sister and babysitter) who may get kicked out of the family to fend for herself and probably die, just like her sister Tosca. Why? Because Flower is pregnant and cranky, food is in short supple in the winter, and Mozart has just mated with a roving male from another family.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who is worried and waiting to see what will happen next. Go to Google News and search for Meerkat Manor to see a surprising amount of news coverage. This real life-and-death soap is an unexpected hit for Animal Planet.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

TC in the Fall

My husband and I spent the weekend enjoying Traverse City. It's one of our favorite Michigan vacation spots: close to home but a good place to get away from it all. There's a wonderful bookstore, lots of fabulous restaurants, and great shopping. We like to stay at the Pointes North Inn so we are right on east bay. Just watching the water is relaxing and the view is wonderful. This is a good time to visit: they have a lot more fall color than we do in southeast Michigan (although the colors are not yet at their peak).

On the way home we decided to drive over to Sleeping Bear Dunes and follow the lake shore south before turning east to head across the state. It's a beautiful drive with lots of scenic views of Lake Michigan. The National Park Service and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau have tons of info about it on their web sites. We didn't see the actual Sleeping Bear, but the other dunes are beautiful and interesting. We stopped at several of the scenic views and the Point Betsie Lighthouse.

Now that my husband is teaching Michigan History at Baker College (Flint campus) we are trying to visit more historical sites. We'd like to visit Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island soon, and eventually do the lighthouse tour. I grew up in Michigan and spent a lot of time up north, but much of "up north" is new to my husband. I found state sites that have lots of good travel info to help us find places to visit: State of Michigan Travel and Recreation and Michigan's Economic Development and Travel Site.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Did I Miss My Calling in Life?

I've been watching more on Animal Planet lately and I've been wondering if I chose the wrong profession. After seeing how much fun they have at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo and the devotion of the zookeepers in The Little Zoo That Could (which is on right before Meerkat Manor), I want to be a zookeeper!

I would love being able to care for wild animals and teach people about them. Of course, I'd be heartbroken when they died or had to move to other zoos, but what a privilege it would be to be one of the lucky people who get to be close to wild animals.

Imagine getting to feed/pet/care for wolves, coyotes, lions, tiger, bears, otters, penguins, meerkats, etc. The critters seem very attached to their human family, too, like dogs and cats but bigger and more dangerous. Like the critters we saw in the Traverse City zoo, they are used to human companionship.

I wonder if zoos need volunteers, what kind of training you need to care for wild animals, and where you might get it?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Irish Fest

I spent yesterday at the Kalamazoo Irish Fest in Arcadia Creek Festival Place. It's a beautiful park in downtown K'zoo. I visited with my friends who run Darkblade Studios and worked in their booth. There was lots of good food, drinks, shopping, and music. Unfortunately, it was rainy so the turn out wasn't good -- but we had lots of fun anyway.

The funniest moment of the day happened when all of us were away from the booth but Doug. Several people came it at once and one person asked, quite seriously, which of the Celtic knotwork jewelry was Scottish and which was Irish. What make this so funny is that it's remniscient of our favorite joke (obviously based on a Blues Brothers joke):

Q: What kind of music does your band play?
A: Both kinds: Scottish and Irish.

Doug politely explained that knotwork was common to both while the thistle was Scottish and the claddagh and shamrock were Irish -- and he did it with a straight face.

Irish Fests seem to be very popular in Sept. (probably celebrating the fact there are only six more months until St. Patrick's Day). If you are free next year, visit the K'zoo Irish Fest. The Irish American Club has details on their web site.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Good-Bye, Mate

Today on CNN: Thousands mourn 'Crocodile Hunter.' The memorial included eulogies by Steve Irwin's father, Bob, and his eight-year-old daughter, Bindi. Read more on Discovery News and watch the service tonight at 9:00 p.m. on Animal Planet.

UPDATE: The memorial was not shown on Animal Planet at 9:00 p.m.; the message on the AP web site about it disappeared sometime yesterday afternoon/evening. Hopefully they will show it soon so folks outside of Australia can say good-bye to Steve. The few clips I saw on the CNN were very moving, a fitting tribute at his zoo with thousands of people attending.

UPDATE Sept. 27: Widow: 'Croc Hunter' death film won't be shown. Thank God! I hoped this would be the case but feared it might leak out on the Internet or something. Terri and the kids don't need that!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arrr, matey, it's talk like a pirate day. Need help? Want more info? Visit these silly web sites and be havin' a piratey day:

The Official Talk Like a Pirate Day Web Site (for American Pirates)
How to Talk Like a Pirate
Top Ten Pirate Pick Up Lines

Official British HQ of Talk Like a Pirate Day (for British Pirates)
How to Be Speakin' Like a Pirate

Be sure to enjoy some pirate movies! (This link goes to a list of pre-Pirates of the Caribbean movies, for stuffy old sea rats.)

Monday, September 11, 2006


These photos say more about the horror and heroism of 9/11/01 than my meager words could ever hope to convey. will be re-playing the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 in real time starting at 8:30 a.m. today. Watch it and remember. Never, never forget!

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter

“The audience needs to come with me and be there with that animal. If we can touch people about wildlife, then they want to save it. ... My job, my mission, my reason for being on this planet is to save wildlife. Thanks for coming along!"

What can I say that hasn't already been said? Wild animals everywhere have lost their greatest friend and champion. After all those close calls, I still can't believe a mere stingray killed the seemingly immortal Crocodile Hunter. Rest in peace, mate. I'll miss your boundless enthusiam, your love of life, and your love of wildlife.

Visit the Animal Planet Tribute Site to share your thoughts or photos, send condolences to the Irwins, donate to the Wildlife Warriors Fund, or watch clips from The Crocodile Hunter.

Monday, August 28, 2006

More Lord of the Rings DVDs?

Tomorrow the Lord of the Rings Limited Edition DVDs go on sale. They've already released the theatrical edition and extended edition, so why a limited edition? According to the official movie web site the main appeal is new documentaries on each film. The sets also include the movies because "releasing these documentaries unaccompanied by the film would be nearly impossible because of agreements that are in place with the cast and crew."

Each film is a two-disk set. Disk 1 contains the theatrical and extended edition of the film. Disk 2 is all the new behind-the-scenes documentaries. Each set is $20 on the movie web site, so they'll be somewhat cheaper at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.

LotR and DVD geek that I am, I'm tempted. I bought both the theatrical edition and extended edition of each film so I'd have all the documentaries. Curse you, Peter Jackson, for tempting me with even more...

UPDATE Aug. 30: Read reviews on Tolkien News. General consensus: the new documentaries are enjoyable but it's not worth it if you already own the previous verisons. That might be why I couldn't find them at Wal-Mart!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

86 and Still Writing

Yesterday Ray Bradbury turned 86 -- and he's still writing! He's also still an optimist. Read about it on CNN "Ray Bradbury forecasts highs for humanity."

I was just surfing the web and learned that in 2004 he received the National Medal of Arts. I also found a nice interview from 2001 on

About this time last year I mentioned that Ray was the first science fiction/fantasy author that I ever read. I still love him. Every fall I feel the urge to re-read his books, especially the Halloween-related ones, and I think of him every time I hear about Mars on the news. If you don't know why, visit his web site for info about Ray and his books.

Happy Birthday, Ray! May you have many, many more. Keep writing!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Justice for JonBenet?

Three days ago John Mark Karr confessed that he accidentally killed JonBenet Ramsey in a kidnapping attempt Christmas night, 1996.

Did he or didn't he?

I've seen the video of him on TV repeatedly. Some newspapers are describing this picture as shocked or expressionless but I think he looks smug.

He seems to know stuff about the crime scene that police have not released to the press, yet his wife (or ex-wife) claims he couldn't have done it because he was with her.

On the other hand he claims he drugged JonBenet, but the police have said the autopsy showed no drugs in her system.

My instincts are telling me he didn't do it; he's just some nutcase who confessed because he wants the notoriety. Time and DNA tests will tell. I hope I'm wrong; I hope they've finally caught the killer.


Update Aug. 29: The DNA did not match but Karr will be extradited to California where he's wanted on child pornography charges. Will be have to pay for that business class flight from Thailand to the US with all those fancy meals?!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My New Baby

Meet my new baby: an 06 Chevy Impala 3LT. It was a demo so it's practically brand new. I've never owned a new car before so I'm really excited. It has all the modern things I've never had before, like anti-lock brakes, remote starter, CD/mp3 player, etc. There's even a jack where I can plug in my iPod!

At the same time I felt bad about abandoning my faithful Toyota Camry even though it was on it's last leg. I won't miss the weird, elusive electrical problems though. :)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hilary Clinton's Bust

In today's news: Hillary Clinton's Bust On Display.

I know I have a weird sense of humor but what tickles me about this story is:
1. It's in the Museum of Sex
2. It's the first bust I've ever seen that includes an actual bust
3. It's Hilary Clinton

It gets even funnier:
Calling his creation "The Presidential Bust of Hillary Rodham Clinton: The First Woman President of the United States," artist Daniel Edwards said he wanted to depict the 58-year-old Clinton "with her head held high, a youthful spirit and a face matured by wisdom."

Indeed, while the former first lady's face is shown with a few wrinkles, Edwards cast her in a low-cut floral dress that reveals her shoulders and chest.

"Her cleavage is on display, prominently portraying sexual power which some people still consider too threatening," Edwards said.

I'm guessing that only other Republicans will see the humor in this.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Farmer's Market

Looking for fresh produce, local honey, and homemade crafts? Try the Davison Farmer's Market, open 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every Friday from July 7th to Sept. 8th, 2006. In addition to produce, the market features live music, assorted crafts, and lunch-type food (hot dogs, brats, pie, etc.).There's also a drawing for a free Market Basket every week. My only complaint is that it's only on Fridays and only July- September.

I visited the Flint Farmer's Market last fall and was very impressed. The are open year-round, Tues. & Thurs. 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sat. 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. They have meat, produce, a wine shop, two bakeries, Watkins products, health foods, flowers, used book and Flint Institute of Arts gift shop (cool jewelry, reasonable prices). I also recommend the lunch place upstairs, which might be called Steady Eddie's. The have good sandwiches and good prices.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Beware the Mars Hoax

I got an e-mail today that said Mars will make a once-in-our-lifetimes remarkably close approach to Earth at the end of the month. Unfortunately, the info in the e-mail is mostly false. Did you get one? If so here's the scoop:
  • "The Red Planet is about to be spectacular." is TRUE
  • "Earth is catching up with Mars [for] the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history." is FALSE
  • "On August 27th‚… Mars will look as large as the full moon." is FALSE (and should be obvious to anyone who has ever looked at the night sky!)
For details refer to NASA’s article “Beware the Mars Hoax” and the Urban Legends Reference Page's "Mars Spectacular."

Terror in the Sky

The first thing I heard when I got up this morning was that New Scotland Yard and MI-5 had foiled a terrorist plot to blow up at least six planes en route from the UK to the US. You can read the latest news on Fox News.

Apparently the plan was to make bombs from innocent-looking liquids that could be carried aboard in carry-on luggage and mixed on the plane. Maximum security is preventing all carry-on luggage except insulin and baby formula. I feel sorry for the innocent passengers who have to check their electronics (including laptops, iPods, and handheld games) into checked luggage.

I'm so proud of the Intelligence folks who stopped what could have been "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" (as Fox News is calling it) and I'm so glad I'm not in the UK trying to get home. (Last year's Mythcon was in England, so that could be us Mythies on those planes!) The passengers must range from nervous, to terrified, to annoyed. I wonder which I'd be? Probably all three.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ups and Downs

The Fall semester starts three weeks from today. I am so depressed. I feel like I've hardly had any time to do what I want to do, and now I need to spend the rest of my vacation getting ready for the new semester.

I'll bet students don't realize faculty feel this way about the end of summer vacation!


Today I attended the funeral of family friend who was 86-years-old. My Uncle Bob was her closest friend and I had only met her a few times, but attending the funeral made me so sad. There were only about 10 people at the funeral and only 4 at the cemetery; half of the attendees were there for my Uncle, not necessarily for the deceased. How sad to outlive all your family and most of your friends.


My day ended on a much more upbeat note. I had my first workout at Contours Express. It's a gym for women, similar to Curves but better (because you use real weights instead of hydraulics). The owner, Anne, is very encouraging and helpful. She showed me how to use each machine correctly. If you've never been to Curves or Contours, the weight machines are set around the edges of a room and you move from station to station, staying about 45 seconds on each machine and doing cardio in between. Two circuits around the room is a complete workout; it takes about an hour. They play upbeat music and a recording tells you when to move to the next station and when to stop and measure your heartrate (once per circuit). I had no trouble reaching my target heartrate!

After two circuits you can do some ab crunches, some exercises with the big workout balls, or play with the hula hoops. I had fun doing all three!

I've never joined a gym before, so I had no idea how to use the equipment. After my first session I am very enthused about it! It's not too hard, you get lots of help so you don't get hurt and know when it's time to increase the weight, and seeing the progress other women my age or older have already made is really inspiring. Exercising really made me feel better despite having a long, sad day I am looking forward to my next workout on Friday.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mythcon Day 4 (Monday): The Last Day

The only events schedule for today were breakfast, the annual Mythopoeic Society Meeting, and Closing Ceremonies.

I tried to be virtuous at breakfast and limited myself to eggs and cereal. After breakfast we packed and checked out. I decided to wear shorts and did manage to stuff everything in my suitcase (a carry-on wheely bag), though zipping it was quite a struggle. :)

The Mythopoeic Society Meeting was brief and ended with an auction of the remaining three ducks. The lady who made them numbered and signed them for us and I'll just bet these silly ducks show up at Mythcon next year.

Closing Ceremonies involved singing a couple of songs about the Inklings (J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams) and "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Hobbit?" The latter was hysterical with folks making up their own lyrics about things that happened at this year's Mythcon. Here's a sample (to the tune of "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor" of course):

What shall we do with a drunken hobbit?
What shall we do with a drunken hobbit?
What shall we do with a drunken hobbit,
Early in the morning?

Way-hey the Mythcon's over
Way-hey the Mythcon's over
Way-hey the Mythcon's over
Early in the morning.

Ask him if a duck was involved,
Ask him if a duck was involved,
Ask him if a duck was involved,
Early in the morning.

Way-hey the Mythcon's over

You get the idea, I'm sure. Other lyrics were things like "Make him eat dessert twice a day" and "Make him dinner with a T-Rex." I wish I could remember all the lyrics because they were all very funny.

After four interesting and fun-filled days, I was sad to leave my new friends, but also glad to be heading home.

Our flight didn't leave until 4:45 p.m., so we stopped by The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for an hour. There's a recreation of a western town, a rodeo hall of fame, Great Performers section (John Wayne is their most popular attraction), exhibits of the art of Frederick Remington and Charles Russell, lots of Native American art, a gallery of American firearms, and lots more. Most surprising to me was the statue of Abraham Lincoln (for his contributions to the settlement of the west). If you are ever in OK City, plan to visit the Cowboy Museum. I could easily have spend a whole day there!

We got to Will Rogers Airport in plenty of time to check in for our flight. Two years ago, the first time I'd flown since Sept. 11, 2001, everyone told me not to wear my cowboy boots when flying because Security would make me take them off. I wore my tennis shoes and on that trip Security only randomly asked people to remove their shoes. This trip, everyone removed their shoes. I was impressed that Security at Will Rogers Airport provided a bootjack (only in Oklahoma, right?). Of course, I was wearing tennis shoes so I didn't need the bootjack, but I appreciated it anyway.

Once we got through security and we started looking for someplace to eat lunch. As luck would have it, we ran into a couple of other folks on their way home from Mythcon and were able to make conference last a bit longer by having one last meal together.

Our flights home were all on time, uneventful, and air conditioned. :)

I’m glad I went to Mythcon. I had a lot of fun, made some new friends, and got some really good feedback on my paper. I’m excited about continuing my paper and looking for new scholarly books I heard about here. I’m also be very glad to be home with my husband and kitties. Now if I could just get that drunken Hobbit song out of my head...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mythcon Day 3 (Sunday): Ducks and Sue the T-Rex!

First things first: my presentation went well and my paper was very well-received. I got lots of good feedback and was encouraged to expand my paper. I also got some very nice comments regarding my scholarship, things like:
  • Your paper was inspirational
  • Wow, I’ve read The Lord of The Rings many times and I never made the same connections you did.
  • When I expressed surprise that no one has written anything on my particular topic a couple people suggested that probably meant that just as Frodo was meant to have the ring, I was meant to write on this topic, and that perhaps the big guy himself (J. R. R. Tolkien, not God :) was trying to tell me something. I doubt that, but it’s nice to know other Tolkien scholars are so impressed with my work. I know some of my readers are not familiar with The Lord of the Rings so they might not get the context, but this is high praise indeed and I am pleased.
The banquet tonight was in the Natural History Museum and we did indeed get to eat in the same room at Sue the T-Rex. In fact, we all got buttons that say “I ate with Sue.” The food was fabulous, like all our other meals: roast beef, a chicken dish, vegetarian lasagna, salad, veggies, three desserts, and wine. I’m just glad the hotel room does not have a bathroom scale because I’m sure I’ve gained weight.

A joke I made last night in the hospitality room has become a running joke. Sarah, who writes for Jeopardy and attended the same U as Berke Breathed, was telling us that Breathed’s Bloom County comic strip started in the college paper. She was describing one particular strip where he lampooned an administrator. It sounded much like a later joke in Bloom County, where Milo’s grandpa was always hunting ducks because he was sure they were communists. In fact, the comic from the college papers sounded so much like Milo’s grandpa I asked Sarah “Was there a duck involved?”. This question struck us all as very funny (we were so tired everything was funny) and we laughed about it all day today.

Tonight’s entertainment included a skit by the Not Ready for Mythcon Players. Ducks featured prominently. Duck props (made of duct tape, of course) were involved. As the source of the joke, I asked for one of the ducks.

Isn't that clever? (In case you can't tell: it's made of styrofoam, duct tape, and a popsicle stick.) It was taped to an upside down plastic cup so it would stand up.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mythcon Day 2 (Saturday): So Much To Do, So Little Time

CAccording to our conference schedule, the hotel provides free breakfast. I skipped that since I paid for the conference meal plan and, like dinner, breakfast was a Hobbit-approved assortment of comfort food (biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage, bacon, French Toast, and cereal).

Opening ceremonies were this morning after breakfast. They are usually done in full academic regalia but since it was 103F today most people wore shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. What a casual, fun conference!

I heard several interesting papers today, including an afternoon-long session of four papers on Tolkien and Shakespeare. Look for three of them in an essay collection of the same name early next year.

Nathan, you will be glad to know I turned the AC off (briefly) in my room this morning. LOL. It has two settings: on and off. I wore shorts again today. The sessions and vendors are in one building, meals in another, and the hotel another. The buildings are nice and cool, but the few steps outside between buildings are like stepping into an oven.

Dinner tonight was another Hobbit-approved meal (where it snowed food and rained drink). We had Chicken Kiev and Salmon for dinner with the usual salad, potatoes, bread, and choice of three desserts. (I had key lime pie.) This was after a similar lunch featuring pasta. I'm sure I've already gained weight!

At dinner I learned that the banquet Sun is at the Natural History Museum we visited Fri! Judy and I are glad because we liked it so much we were talking about going back. I forgot to mention that the museum has a replica of Sue the T-Rex from Chicago's field museum. We are hoping the banquet will be in a room with dinosaurs!

I feel like a real author now. Tonight when I was hanging out in the hospitality room Wendell Wagner handed me a copy of Tolkien on Film and asked me to sign my essay. I was quite flattered! I wrote "thank you" in Elvish and signed my name. (Don't be impressed. It's only two words and most of my Elvish vocabulary.)

My presentation is tomorrow, in the last time slot before the banquet. I figure that means I'll have no one or everyone. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mythcon Day 1 (Friday): Dinosaurs and Hobbits

Today's plans were to drive from OK City to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, check in to the Sooner Hotel on campus, check in to the conference, and find out what activities they had planned for us.

Norman is very close to OK City so it only took a few minutes to get here. We couldn't check in until this afternoon so we spent much of the day in the campus Natural History Museum -- lots of Dinosaurs and American Indian stuff. :)

We checked in to the The Sooner Hotel and Suites in the later afternoon. My room is very nice, with two beds (a queen-size and a single), a desk for the TV, and a larger desk with a 'fridge and microwave but also room for a computer. The free wireless works well, so I can stay in touch with family and friends via e-mail -- and get my daily weather, comic, and news fix every morning.

After checking in to the conference I stopped by vendor's room where I purchased a t-shirt (everyone is wearing shorts and t-shirts!) and a tote bag for the stupid jeans and polo shirt I wore Thurs., don't plan to wear again, and don't have room for in my suitcase. (Mental note: Kill Nathan for advice about "dressing warm" to compensate for extremely cold air conditioning.)

Dinner was excellent: catfish, bbq ribs, coleslaw, corn fritters, bread, salad, and a choice of deserts (chocolate chip cheesecake, double fudge cake, and strawberry Bavarian cream cake; I had the latter). The ice tea was really good (brewed and still hot)!

There was a book signing tonight at a nearby bookstore followed by fun in the hospitality room (just a few steps from our rooms), but after two nights of much less than adequate sleep I decided to go to bed early.

Before you ask: yes, I examined my bed layer by layer before getting into it and am pleased to report that the Sooner hotel is spider-free. :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Mythcon Day 0 (Thursday): From MI to OK

Our travels plans for today were to fly out of Flint at 3:30 p.m. and end up in Oklahoma City at 10:30 p.m. We eventually arrived in OK City, but things didn't quite go as planned.

Our flight from Flint to Detroit was good but the plane was very warm. Our first clue that it would be a warm flight was when the pilot welcomed us to "Northwest Sauna." I was glad I had tossed a battery-operated hand-held fan in my flight bag at the last minute (in case of air conditioner- or power-failure). I was really annoyed that decided to wear jeans and a medium-weight silk polo shirt. My friend Nathan convinced me that the air conditioning would be so cold (to compensate for the extreme Oklahoma heat) that I'd want jeans and probably a sweater. I about died of heat stroke on the plane! I was ready to mug someone for a pair of shorts and a tank top -- and there were lots of potential victims. Everyone else I saw all day was dressed much more sensibly than I!

When we got to Detroit they rolled out the covered walk to the plane and the darn thing broke. It wouldn't open or move. We sat around in a hot plane while they tried to fix it. We offered to exit the plane via the emergency slides but the stewardess thought we were kidding. Just as they decided to move the covered hallway and use the open air stairs to the ground, a huge rainstorm broke. Fortunately, at that point they fixed the covered hallway and we were able to deplane.

Judy and I enjoyed walking around Detroit Metro a bit, then took the people mover to the end of Concourse A and had a nice dinner at Quiznos. I'd never been through the tunnel that leads to Concourse A: its sides are lighted with panels of multi-colored lights which change to the accompanying music. It was beautiful, sort of like the northern lights.

After dinner we found our gate a settled down to wait... and wait ... and wait for our flight. It was delayed twice and the gate was changed twice. We left nearly four hours late (almost 10 p.m.). I'm so glad I was traveling with Judy! Having someone to visit with made the wait much nicer.

The flight to OK City was good. I don't think I've ever flown at night. I could see the nearly-full moon and the cities under light cloud cover looked like Christmas lights shining through snow. I even got to see what a t-storm looks like from above! Very cool. The only down side (besides being exhausted) is that Judy and I were very crowded in seats obviously not made for tall or large people. I was so glad when we finally landed so I could stretch my legs! Unfortunately, when we did we were delayed again because another plane was at our gate. And they turned off the air at first so the plane was very warm.

By the time we finally deplaned, got our rental car, and got to the hotel (the Red Roof Inn near the OK City airport) it was 3 a.m. I hadn't slept well Wed. night due to the lightning so I was more than ready drop into bed.

Warning: Arachnophobes stop reading now.

When I flipped back the bedcovers I developed a whole new sympathy for my acrophobic husband: I found the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life. It was nearly the size of a quarter!

After nearly having a heart attack I called Judy to ask for advice. Then I called the desk and asked the nice young man who checked us in to come kill the big nasty spider. He had to dismantle the bed down to the floor to get it but I didn't care. That just assured me that Mr. Humungous Garden Spider wasn't living with all his family and friends under my bed. The nice guy not only put my bed back together (with military corners), he shook out each layer of bedding (including taking the pillows out of the pillowcases) so I'd know there were no more spiders -- and he wouldn't let me tip him! I told everyone at the desk this morning how impressed I was and got a business card so I can write a letter to his manager. His name is Ryan and he just got out of the Army and he didn't make feel like a whimp!

Despite exhaustion and knowing the room was spiderless, I had trouble falling asleep. All I could think about was spiders. First, I tried to relax and picture something pleasant, like my cats (who would have killed the spider for me...). Crap.

Next, I tried to meditate using a guided meditation on my iPod. "Imagine you are sitting on a cliff looking over the ocean..." (where there are no spiders). "Now imagine the sunrise..." (now I can see that there are no spiders). Crap.

Third, I scrolled through my iPod for something else to listen to. I lamented loading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (the one with the spiders!) on my iPod. Crap.

Finally, I decided to listen to The Fellowship of the Ring. I chose the "Lothlorien" chapter because our characters find a safe -- and spiderless -- haven there. Finally feel asleep. Woke up repeatedly because the bed was too hard. Kept listening to "Lothlorien" to keep away the spiders. Thank God for audio books!

Fashion Accessory or K9 Cop?

Today on Tiny drug dog sniffs out big career.

Isn't he just the cutest K-9 cop you've ever seen?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mythcon 37

For the second time ever, I will be attending Mythcon, the annual conference of The Mythopoeic Society.

The Mythopoeic Society is a non-profit international literary and educational organization for the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature, especially the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams (aka The Inklings). Mythlore is the Society's peer-reviewed journal that publishes scholarly articles on mythic and fantastic literature. Mythlore is part of the MLA database available in UMF's library via FirstSearch (in case you want to look it up).

The Society gives out four awards each year at Mythcon:
  • The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature
  • The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature
  • The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inkling Studies
  • The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies
This year's Mythcon is at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. It's about 20 degrees hotter than Michigan. My first Mythcon was Mythcon 35 in Ann Arbor two years ago. Since it was close to home, I drove home each night and missed all the evening fun and entertainment, so I'm excited about attending and presenting a paper.

The theme of this year's Mythcon is "The Map & The Territory: Maps and Landscapes in Fantasy with a track on Native American Fantasy/Native Americans in Fantasy." I'm very interested in the Native American aspect because we will be in Cherokee country. My grandmother was part Cherokee and I know very little about that part of my heritage. I'm hoping to find good info on the Cherokee while we are there.

My paper, "The Light of Stars: Frodo's Elvish Air," has nothing to do with maps or Native Americans but Tolkien papers are always appropriate. I'm pretty happy with the draft I'll be reading and looking forward to lots of good feedback from Tolkien scholars who are even geekier than I.

I'll be traveling with Judy Kollmann. I'm a little nervous about flying (terrorists, actually, not flying itself) but I'm sure having a friend to travel with will make me more relaxed. We leave tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 3) and get home Monday (Aug. 7). Mythcon itself is Aug. 4-7. I'll try to post daily so you can share our Mythcon adventures, even if I have to post them all after we get back home.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Festival of Flags

Davison's annual Festival of Flags is one of the reasons I love living in a small town. Here's what this year's festival included, courtesy of the Davison Chamber of Commerce:

Festival Of Flags 2006, July 26th - 30th

In Park
Ice Cream Social...Wed 26th.
FREE Train Rides...Wed 26th.
Pony Rides & Petting Zoo...all 5 days.
Davison Karate Wed 26th.
Fireworks...Wed 26th at dusk.
Art-In-The-Park. Sat. & Sun. 29th & 30th.

5-K Run...Wed 26th before parade.
Parade...Wed 26th, Largest in Genesee County for three years.
Car Cruise...Fri. 28th Main St.
M-15 Car Show-Swap Meet. Sat. 29th, prizes.
Motorcycles...during car show.
Moon-Walk...Sat. 29th for care & share

New Kroger Lot
Moon-Walk, Games, Kids Music...Thurs 27th -Sun. 30th.

St. John's Family Center
Talent Show...Thurs. 27th, get applications at 810-653-6266.

Hahn Middle School
Carnival... all 5 days.
Battle of The Bands...Sat. 29th Collins Field. Info & applications-810-653-6266.


My only complaint about the Festival is the timing. Since it's the Festival of Flags, I think it should revolve around a patriotic holiday, like Flag Day or July 4th. It used to be centered around Flag Day but someone decided June was too cold for evenings in the Entertainment Tent. I hope whoever made that decision is happy! This year we had near record-breaking heat and humidity just in time for the festival. There were heavy rainshowers Wed. afternoon which stopped just before the parade. Instead of cooling things off, it only got more hot and humid when the rain stopped and the sun came back out. I have no idea how the people in the 5K run or the parade could stand it. I was sweat-soaked just sitting still and watching the parade! Despite the heat & humidity it was five days of fun.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I Want This Mac!

Apple e-mailed me this ad a few days ago. Think I can convince the university to buy me a computer that grades term papers for me? :)

If only it did grade term papers...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Deadly Nigerian Scam

Today on CNN: "Slain preacher's wife fleeced in scam, lawyer says." Mary Winkler, charged with murdering her minister husband in Tennessee in March, may have been motivated by financial problems. She "had gotten tangled up along with her husband in a swindle known as an advance-fee fraud, or the 'Nigerian scam.' Scam victims are told that riches are waiting for them if they send in money to cover the processing expenses, Winkler's lawyers say."

How sad that they not only fell for this scam, but he died for it! People please, say it with me: "No foreigner is going to reward me for allowing him/her to move money into my American bank account."

If you are a victim of this scam the proper response is not to kill your spouse. Instead, contact the Better Business Bureau and the National Fraud Information Center and the Secret Service Financial Crimes Division.

As The Urban Legends Reference Site reminds us: "The Secret Service asks if you have been victimized by the Nigerian scam to forward appropriate written documentation to the United States Secret Service, Financial Crimes Division, 950 H Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20223, or telephone (202) 406-5850, or contact by e-mail. Per their automated response system, they no longer want faxed copies of the various Nigerian scams."

Remember, there's not much anyone can do to help you once you've been scammed, so don't get taken in.

"If somebody tells you you've won something and they want even a nickel before you actually have the money in your hand, they're crooks. It's as simple as that," said Steve Baker, Midwest regional director of the Federal Trade Commission [in the CNN article].

Too bad Matthew and Mary Winkler didn't know that.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer Hibiscus

My hibiscus obviously enjoys heat and humidity more than I do. It's thriving on our balcony and has too many buds to count!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Longing for Fall

If you have allergies, this is going to be a long summer. The mold levels have been really high since we got a lot of rain at the end of May/beginning of June and the mold level shows no sign of dropping any time soon. This aggravates me because I'm severely allergic to mold; even when it's cool I can't really enjoy being outside (unless I decide to give up breathing).

Ragweed (the other bane of summer allergy sufferers) usually starts in late July, so allergen-wise, things are only going to get worse. The ragweed will pollinate until the first hard frost, usually the first week of October in this part of Michigan. The mold will last a little longer.


October is nearly three months away and it can't get here soon enough for me! In the meantime, at least I've got my air condition and, thanks to a great summer sale at Yankee Candle, my favorite autumn scents* to remind me that October will get here eventually.

* Harvest, Pumpkin Pie, and Pumkin Spice by Yankee Candle. I also like Mulled Cider by Root Candles. Cookie- or coffee-scented candles make me hungry but, weirdly, the pie-scented ones do not.