Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Adventure of the Lock

Last Tuesday, just a mere week ago, it was over 60 degrees F in Salt Lake City.  I took a nice, long walk in the late autumn leaves.  I didn't need a jacket; a sweatshirt was fine.
Today, however, after two small-ish snowstorms, we have near-hurricane force winds in some parts of the state.  In the Salt Lake Valley, the gusts are reaching up to 60 MPH.  With the windchill factor, the temperature is -8 F.  (That was a MINUS sign, folks.  It's negative 8 out there.)
Yup.  Winter is here.
(I recall one Sunday in January of 2005 when it reached exactly 32 F or 0 C in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I was living at the time.  An older lady at church shook me by the shoulders and said, "It's zero degrees out there!  It's literally freezing!"  I blinked a couple of times, then smiled and said, "In Utah, when it gets UP to freezing in January, we call it a good day.")

So, last night, the deadbolt on my back door was stiff.  I decided to "take care of it in the morning."
I should've known better, as I do not have a good history with locks.  (There was the time when the doorknob on the spare bedroom ceased to function and I accidentally locked myself in.  I had to dismantle the doorknob with a pair of scissors, as there were no tools in the room.  And all the while I was wearing only a towel, as I was fresh out of the bath.  Then there was the time that my key snapped off in the lock, and the only spare key was in my parents' car -- and they were out of town.  I called Max, and he and I spent 45 minutes breaking into my own house.  And, while I was -- fortunately -- thoroughly dressed for that occasion, I had a horrid migraine at the time, so pounding hammers were NOT what I wanted to hear.)
So, at 8:00 this morning, I heard the wind blow some object against the side of the house, so I got up (Yeah, I know; I was still in bed at 8:00.  It's winter break!  I don't have to get up at 4:30 this week.) to have a look -- and the deadbolt froze in the open position.
Once I'd thrown on some clothes, I tramped across the frozen wasteland (ankle-deep drifts of snow) of the back porch to get to the garage.  The WD40 was exactly where it was supposed to be, but it was a mighty cold metal can.
Once I got the WD40 back into the house, I let it warm up.  Only then did I notice that, when I had last used it and removed the tiny red straw which allows the user to direct the spray into a small area, the little blue plastic adapter circle which is supposed to fit into the push-nozzle had stayed on the straw instead of in the notch on the nozzle.  This meant it would be harder to reattach everything.
I grabbed a rag and took everything over the kitchen sink for better light.  I wrestled with the nozzle and blue circle/ straw combo, trying to snap things back together, when suddenly, PSSSSTTT!!
It took me a second or two to find what I'd hit; two full cabinet doors were dripping with WD40.
I sighed heavily and found the 409 under the kitchen sink.  (Normally I clean with vinegar, but I keep 409 on hand for nasty greasiness that needs a hefty dose of chemicals.)  As I hadn't used in in many a month, it was dusty and had to be cleaned off before I could use it to clean the doors and now the counter top where the oil was dripping.  Fun.
Once I finally got the *&&%% pieces of the spray can put together, fixing the lock was a snap.  Two shots of WD40, and the whole piece was as good as new.  I didn't even have to dismantle the lock to oil it.  :D
(Shout out to Dad, here, for teaching me to fix stuff and for never thinking that a girl didn't need tools or knowledge like this.)

Now I'm all set to wait out the wind.  Here's to hoping the power stays on, as I'd prefer to have heat in the house today. :)

Friday, December 26, 2014

What I'm Anxious To Read In 2015

I love Terry Deary's Horrible Histories, and I love Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I.  Now Deary has a book for adults that covers that time period!  Yes, please!

I'm addicted to Flavia DeLuce!  And in the first week of the new year, Alan Bradley is releasing the 7th book in the series!  I can't wait to devour it.

First Carriger gave us the Parasol Protectorate series.  Then she gave us the Etiquette and Espionage series.  Now, Alexia's daughter Prudence has grown up, and Carriger is giving us a new series this spring!  Steampunk plus vampires and werewolves.  It's a win!

Yes, Robert Kirby's latest is out.  If anyone could replace Erma Bombeck as a comic columnist, it's Kirby.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Random Acts Of Kindness

The final school week before Christmas break is metaphorically the second longest week in the school year (the longest being the last week of school).  The kids are hyper.  Teachers have no wish to begin new instruction with a long break looming ahead wherein the kids will forget everything.  Some parents  pull their kids out early, making them miss reviews and tests, which teachers invariably give when it's not the right time for new material.  Kids bring presents for each other and candy to school, which distracts them.  Hormones run high, as holiday expectations about their crushes mount (perhaps a poor choice of words there) into romantic and/or sexual fancies.  Disappointment and jealousy often follow, so lots of girls turn into drama divas and lots of boys make threats or start fights.
Folks, it's a loooooong old week for teachers.
But this past Friday, the final day before the break, I was surprised twice by kindness.
Once was just for me individually: I received a small gift from a student.  (It was a mug.)
This sort of thing used to happen all the time, years ago.  I'd often go home for break with a whole bag of treats, cards from appreciative parents, notes from kids, and small gifts.  But, over the past decade, with politicians and the media continually demonizing teachers, it's rare for me to receive even a candy cane anymore.
This student, however, is an immigrant from a country where teachers are traditionally shown more respect than they are here; that probably had something to do with it.  And I was touched by the gesture.  He was so proud to bring in the wrapped gift, and he wanted me to open it right then and there.  :) 
I don't need the mug, of course, but I found I really DID need the warm fuzziness of having a student -- and his parents -- give me a mug.  THAT was an awesome Christmas gift.
The other bit of kindness involved the whole school, and I do mean the whole school.
Everyone arrived Friday morning to find every single locker in the whole school and every single teacher's mail box with a hand-made, handwritten holiday card on/in it.  The cards were simple: just red or green construction paper and black magic marker with one of several non-religious greetings therein.  (Mine said, "We hope you have a winter break filled with fun!") 
There was much speculation as to who had done this (I had to assure several kids that no one from the office staff would have had time to do such a thing.), but the principal explained a bit later to the teachers.  It so happened that an 8th-grade girl had approached her in November and explained that she felt bad that there were some kids at our school who would get very little for Christmas.  She wanted to do something.  When she asked if she could put cards on every locker, the principal tried to talk her out of it because our school has over 1000 kids.  But the girl was insistent, and the principal gave in.  Apparently, the girl enlisted the help of two friends, and together, these girls made over 1000 holiday cards, then -- with the blessing of the administration and the custodians -- taped them to every locker and put them in every teacher's mailbox.
True, many kids didn't appreciate it, and there were ripped up cards all over the place in the halls.  But then other kids took pity on our over-worked custodians (two are out on long-term illness issues, and we're chronically short-handed right now), and these kids began picking up messes that other kids had made.
Still, most kids were impressed that someone had taken the time to make every person a card.  I saw at least a few students carrying those cards with them to class.  (I took mine home to save, even though I don't know the girl who made them.)  It was nice to know that some kid had put that much effort into trying to make sure that everyone had at least one bit of holiday cheer.
I've been teaching a long time, and that's the first time I've ever heard of a kid doing such a thing.  It makes me hope she'll go on to be a leader or business owner who organizes people into forces for good.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The New York Post Ranks Utah Right Up There With Saudi Arabia For Women

 A couple of days ago, the New York Post ran an article entitled "Five Places Women Shouldn't Spend Their Travel Dollars."  In the article, Utah was lumped with Turkey, El Salvador, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia for places horrible for women -- and the writer didn't even take into account our 3rd-world birthrate, polygamous groups, and patriarchal socio-religious dominating influence!

Here's what she had to say about each place a woman should avoid, due to the severe lack of rights for women there.


“You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.” So said Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking last week in Istanbul at — of all places — a women’s conference. In the speech, delivered on Nov. 24 to the Turkish Women and Democracy Association, Erdogan indicated that a woman is incapable of doing every job that a man can do because “it is against her delicate nature” — specifically citing pregnant women and nursing mothers.
“You can’t tell this to feminists, because they do not accept motherhood. They have no such concerns,” said the conservative leader, who’s advocated for women having at least three children. We wonder what Beyoncé would have to say about that.

As if being a policewoman weren’t tough enough, in Indonesia, a report says the government forces female recruits to undergo “virginity tests,” which involves a doctor examining applicants to see if their hymens are intact. The reason? Policewomen in Indonesia are required to be virgins, to ensure that they are morally fit for duty.
El Salvador:
...[T]he country also has some of the world’s strictest anti-abortion laws — abortion is illegal for any reason, including rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in danger. A side effect is that women who suffer miscarriages or stillbirths have been accused of trying to end their pregnancies — and have been sentenced to prison for aggravated homicide, a charge that carries up to 30 years. A 2012 report from the Central American Women’s Network listed 628 El Salvadoran women currently imprisoned for having abortions, and noted that “women . . . are regularly reported to the police following a miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labour.”
Saudi Arabia:
Last week, numerous restaurants posted signs banning single women from entering. Why? Because they smoke, “flirt” and speak on their cellphones — behavior that one restaurant owner called “mentally unstable.” It’s just one of a long list of things women are prohibited from doing by law in Saudi Arabia. Those include: voting, driving, and visiting a doctor without a male chaperone.

Basing its tabulation on three major categories — economy, leadership and health — 247wallst.com came to the conclusion that “Utah is the worst state for women.” Here are just a few reasons: A typical man in Utah earned more than $50,000 in 2013, while most women made 70 percent of that figure — one of the largest gender-pay gaps in the nation. Less than 31 percent of management positions were held by women in Utah (the second lowest rate in the US). Only six women occupy the 75 seats in the state’s House of Representatives, and Utah has just five female state senators — a huge underrepresentation of women in government.
For its rankings, wallethub.com took 10 key metrics into account and declared Utah 49th in gender-based disparity. Among its findings: Utah had the biggest educational attainment gap and was second to last in workplace equality. 

Well, when she puts it that way, she does have a point.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer

I was pleased to see this as a new acquisition on our school library shelves.  I hadn't heard of it, but the blurb sounded promising.

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape from the coastal cities or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.

The Inventor’s Secret is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate nineteenth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery.

And it was steampunk!  Obviously, I had to read it.
So I did.  Until 2:00 AM.
My conclusion?  Meh.

The book's greatest strength is the steampunk.  Seriously, this Cremer person DOES steampunk setting right!  We have a whole cave town under what appears to be Niagra Falls, invention rooms, an electro-magnetic gun that kills huge rats, the coolest submarine ever, airships, a floating city (NYC, re-imagined), a tinker town, a Wizard-of-Oz-type gypsy/palmreader, a metal forest, a hive of slightly-bonkers inventors, rebellion against the Empire, air-pressure-powered elevators, a gigantic Ferris wheel (before Ferris wheels were invented, but oh well), and more.  This is steampunk to the Nth degree!
So why did I not fall in love with the book?
Well, Cremer's greatest weakness is inconsistency.  Frankly, a lot of things did not make sense, even within the world of the book.  Let's take this cave community where about 2 dozen teens and children live, hiding from the evil Empire while their parents are off fighting -- and apparently never check in.  The cave itself has plumbing -- with sewage drains and hot water -- supposedly added by earlier groups of kids.  Okaaaayyyy.  Also, there are no adults to teach the kids how to run their own mini-society so they don't go all Lord of the Flies, but the kids just "naturally" follow whoever decides to be the leader.  Riiiiiggght.  (Note: has Cremer ever dealt with groups of kids before???)  There's no in-fighting.  And no jealousy.  Suuurre. *rolls eyes*  Plus, Cremer never explains where they get their food.  She has them raid dumps for scrap metal to make the spiffy submarine and such, but they eat cheese and bread.  Where does it come from?  Are they making their own?  If so, where do they get the flour and the milk?  Or are they stealing the food?  If so, how is it that no one has ever caught or noticed kids repeatedly stealing food for at least a decade?  And why has the constantly-watching Empire never noticed the smoke from cooking fires and laboratories?  Why are these kids not living off forest animals and foraged berries or the fungus Cremer mentions grows in the cave?
Then there's Charlotte, the protagonist.  Where do all of her spiffy corsets and leather dresses come from?  Who's making those?  If it's one of the kids, how did a child learn to sew such difficult stuff?
And when Charlotte has to fake being a fine lady in NYC, she seems to learn all about society in a day or two.  No other girl considers her a rival (not even the girl who obviously should).  No one notices her social faux pas.  No comment is made when she shows up to make her debut in high society in a dress that is at least 25 years out of style.  (Granted, Charlotte would not know it was out of style, and perhaps the military leader who hustles her into that dress to scoot her to the event in a hurry before his brother finds out doesn't know much about ladies' dresses.  But no girls or their mamas at the ball laugh or gossip or notice her.  Look, this is the social equivalent of Kate Middleton's showing up at a Royal event with an 80s mullet.  People WOULD NOTICE.  But no one does.  What the heck?  Cremer sets this in 1816.  Has she never read Pride and Prejudice??!!)
Now, Charlotte's incredibly bad taste in guys can be set down to hormones, so that's believable (although I wanted to slap her a couple of times), but she has a major, unexplained reaction when she meets a woman who, grieving over the death of her son, left her husband to join a religious commune.  Charlotte freaks out in a rant about how horrible the woman is.  Yet Charlotte sees absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that she knows a couple of dozen children abandoned by their parents who are fighting for the rebellion.  So, she finds it socially acceptable for parents to leave children unattended for a decade but socially unacceptable for a woman to leave her healthy and employed husband for a different kind of life.  Her reaction is completely unexplained in the book.

Also, the book is clearly part of a series.  The ending of the book is really just the ending of a chapter, and there are a couple of nasty cliffhangers just dangling there.

So, overall, my recommendation would be don't read it yet.  Wait until the whole series is out, then read it as one reads a cozy mystery or a beach novel: don't expect too much.  This is not a tightly-written book, but rather an exhibition of steampunk ideas in a sloppy plot.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Personally, I think the word "funicular" sounds like 80s surfer slang.  It should be right up there with "gnarly" and "tubular."
I didn't even know what a funicular was until a few years ago when I read the second book in the Fever Crumb series!  And it was after that that I found out they were real and not just something steampunk!

It was only recently that I learned we had a funicular in Utah.  There's one in Deer Valley, an Aspen-wannabe ski resort for the über-rich.  (Let me assure you that one does not live there on a school teacher's salary.)
Anyway, this year some extended family finally convinced my mom that she didn't have to cook Thanksgiving dinner (she still won't let me cook; that would make her feel too guilty or out of control), and we all went out to (an expensive) dinner at St. Regis Hotel, home of the funicular.

Basically, this funicular works like an elevator (you push a button and wait for it to arrive), functions like a tram on a track, and feels like a very, very slow-moving rollercoaster.
Still, it was a first for me!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My New Favorite Christmas Carol

"Shovel more coal into the boiler; Set the airship for the North Pole.
As we float through the sky, keep a watchful eye
For reindeer out the porthole.
Strap your goggles on against the blizzard.
Hang a wreath on each hatchway.
As we all sail up, raise the wassail cup
To the steampunk holiday."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What It's REALLY Like During A School Lockdown

Our school made the news today for a soft lockdown.

School lockdowns often make the news -- because news media folks love to get into the danger zone, and the public freaks out if they think there's a chance of a shooting.
But the truth is that most lockdowns are mostly just annoying.  Our school has been through a LOT of lockdowns in the many years I've taught there, and not a single one of them proved to be anything more than precautionary.  Once we had to go into soft lockdown for 30 minutes or so because a student from a nearby grade school had been injured in an auto-pedestrian accident (broken leg or so, not life-threatening).  The EMTs decided he needed LifeFlight for some reason, and the helicopter had nowhere to land except on our school's softball field.  All our kids had to be contained while this happened.  Another time we went into soft lockdown because one of our own students had been injured (again, nothing life-threatening) in the gym, and EMTs do NOT like having crowds of kids huddling while they work.  It was near class change time, so we went into lockdown to keep kids away from the EMTs while they got the injured girl out of the building.
See?  Most lockdowns are pretty mundane.
Have we ever had one because of a gun?  Sure.  But it was still not that big of a deal.  YEARS ago, I recall that one of my students, S., apparently wanted to sell a sawed-off shotgun to another one of my students, C. This was to take place during lunch.  Another student saw the weapon (hidden in a trench coat pocket) and reported it.  S. took off running, but no one was sure as to whether or not he'd taken the gun.  So, while the police searched for S., kids were put into lockdown, and all available adults searched lockers.  No weapons were found, S was caught, no one was ever in danger.

Today was a bit like that last one, but things were easier because of the internet.
I have 9th grade regular English for period 4B, which begins at 12:30 PM.  Today, three kids were absent, so I only had 35 in the room. (Note: in Utah, 35 is an average-sized class.)  I have a no hall pass policy; only kids with real emergencies involving vomit, a bloody nose, or a contact lens get hall passes, so most days, no one gets a hall pass.  Today was one of those normal days.
Period 4B ends at 1:55, but we went into soft lockdown at about 1:40.  I locked the relocatable door, reassured the kids that soft lockdown meant there was no real danger, and we kept working.
The bells were turned off, so we did not go to advisory class.  By 2:15, I was really regretting drinking a coke before 4B and was wondering when I'd get to use the restroom.  Also by 2:15, the kids had had enough of English work, and I told them to stop working on their group research projects and just chill for awhile.
But school privacy rules mean that very little info was available, and the kids grew uptight wondering what was happening.
Thank heaven for Twitter!  I pulled up the twitter feeds for  the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL TV, KUTV, and KTVX.  The first two were useless, but the latter two began to give us far more info than the school could release.
I read off to the kids that a boy from our school had had a gun and had fled, that he was somewhere east of the school, and that we were in no danger.  This helped calm the kids.
The end of school came, but we were not released.
Now, kids are not supposed to use their phones during an emergency so that satellite communications don't get overloaded, but I made a small exception.  I divided the kids into 3 groups and allowed each group 3 minutes to text their parents and such.  Nearly all the kids obeyed and shut off their phones when I promised I'd let them do it again if we were still stuck there in 15 minutes.
We were.
And 15 minutes beyond that.
By then it was 3:30, and they'd been in my room for three solid hours.  They were still behaving, but they'd been reduced to throwing paper at each other, and the room was getting pretty messy.  (Oh well. I'll have period 1A do a quick pick up tomorrow morning.)  I'd passed out all my bagged candy (teachers must buy their own candy; we may not be reimbursed for any candy), which helped cheer up the kids.
Finally, I saw one of the paraprofessionals at the door of the main building.  Literally pushing a couple of kids back into my room -- and knowing the kid gunman was nowhere near the school -- I stepped outside my relo (with my keys in hand) and begged her to call the office on her walkie to ask if I could escort my kids inside the building to use the bathroom!  (As it was a soft lockdown, kids everywhere except the two relos had been allowed controlled access to the restrooms.)  She assented, and five minutes later, the head custodian, the intern vice-principal, the school cop, and the paraprofessional lined up to herd my kids from my door into the auditorium.  From there I was able to take small groups to the restrooms.  (Thank heaven!)
At just before 4:00 PM, we received word to begin releasing the kids.  This was done classroom by classroom, and it took nearly 30 minutes to get them all herded out the front doors, with no kids being allowed to stop at lockers.
Outside were about 150 or so parents.  Most were behaving, but some got pretty nasty, trying to force their way in to get kids' cell phones.  While I was on door duty, not a single parent thanked the numerous police officers or any school employees for keeping their kids safe and under control for an extra hour and a half after school.   Not one.
When all the kids were out, we left the police in charge of dealing with the crowd and the media, and we were called in to a faculty meeting.  There we learned as much of the rest of the story as we were allowed to know (everything but the name of the kid -- but that's OK; all students will know it by tomorrow morning due to social media, so all we have to do is ask one of them).  The police found the boy, and he surrendered.  The gun was a toy.  No one was ever in danger.  But we did everything right.

So, what's it REALLY like during a major lockdown?
Mostly it's tiring.
Try to imagine being in a classroom with 35 9th graders for 3 1/2 hours without a single break.  That's what it's like.  :)
And I was lucky; I had 9th graders, not 7th graders.  And it was a reasonably good class.  They behaved pretty well, considering.  They followed my directions.  They did not go nuts on me.

All the same, I'm going to take a bucket to school -- just in case we're ever in a hard lockdown and we are forced to spend longer than 3 hours without bathroom access!  (No, I'm not kidding.  I've got a bucket ready to go for tomorrow.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

All In A Day's Randomness

We teachers like to help each other out, sharing lesson plans, books, whatever.  And because we constantly juggle with way too many balls in the air at any given time, sometimes we send out e-mails for help.  I have, for example, been able to fill an art teacher's need for a couple of dozen empty, clean yogurt and/or cottage cheese containers by the next day -- since my father is an artist and since I do a lot of crafts and it is just our habit to clean and save all such containers.
Today, however, all of us on the listserv got two e-mails requesting items that were even more random than usual.
From the counseling office:

(Yes, some teachers do own their old caps and gowns, but not too many teachers happen to keep theirs at school.)

And from a math teacher:

(Femurs.  Okey-dokey.  I'll see what I can do.  Hmmm..... maybe the neighbors' dogs.... *grins evilly*)
(PS.  Yes, at least two of us English teachers are geeky enough to know that he misquoted Hamlet in his first sentence.)

Yup.  I bet all you folks who work in offices never get e-mails like these. :D

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Jeepers, Creepers! Where'd Ya Get Those Peepers?!

For your weekend amusement:
Horses wearing eye-fly protection "sunglasses" approach our car as we stop on Spanish Valley Road in Moab, Utah, October, 2014.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Usually I'm Apathetic About Team Sports....

.... but when a former student of mine becomes chaser for the Utah State University quidditch team, I do feel a bit proud.  :)
(Yes, he's holding a broomstick between his legs.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween: All's Right With The World

My seven-year-old neighbor, attired in his Harry Potter costume, just climbed a tree in his backyard, toting his treat bucket with him, and yelled, "Namaste, world!  Namaste!"

I am amused.  :)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Warning Labels For Idiots, Or, "Don't Sue Us If You Eat This"

So, a package of crab legs contains shellfish?!  Wow.  Who'd a thunk it?
*rolls eyes*

(PS If you can't read the allergen warnings, click on the pic to enlarge it.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

E-Book Sale! Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire

Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire is just 99¢ right now for the e-book.

Lurking in the nuclei of a few rare human cells is an as-yet unstudied gene. It is a gene that makes the inheritor crave mammal blood and faint in bright sunlight. It is a gene that prevents the bearer from appearing normally in digital or mirror images.
It’s a gene that makes your life heck if you’re in junior high and trying to fit in.

Eric Wright is a half-vampire with a problem. Several problems, actually. He can’t tell his bloodlust from his rollercoaster adolescent hormones. The cutest girl in first period English wants him to become a vegetarian. And the assistant principal suspends him when he refuses to explain why his skin appears translucent in a school security video.

Then Eric’s non-vampire mom, who’s definitely not telling everything she knows, takes him with her on a business trip. To Scotland, where it never stays sunny for very long. The perfect hang out for a vampire. Or several. If only Eric can find one to talk to before he makes any more stupid mistakes....

Want a copy?  Want to give a copy to a friend?  Just click right here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Grammar So Bad It Hurts

Warning:  This image contains graphic use of bad grammar.  It may be disturbing to educated viewers.

From dictionary.com:

verb (used with object)slew, slain, slaying.
to kill by violence.
to destroy; extinguish.
Informal. to impress strongly; overwhelm,especially by humor:
Your jokes slay me.
Obsolete. to strike.
verb (used without object)slew, slain,slaying.
to kill or murder.

And this thing has been traditionally published!   A professional editor allowed this HUGE typo in the title to pass!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Because Football Has Never Really Been About Being Sensitive Towards Other People's Feelings

From my mother's photo album comes this not-particularly-racially-sensitive photo of University of Utah cheerleaders at a game in 1941.

(Click on photo to enlarge.)
Who am I, Sir?  A Utah man am I!  A Utah man, Sir, I will be 'til I die!

Fortunately, things are a little less blatant now.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Utah: The Greatest Snow On Earth

I understand that it was the Norwegians who invented skiing, but it was Utah's snow that popularized the sport in the mid-1900s.
My parents started skiing when people hiked up mountain sides and then skied down. They also recall when tow-ropes were a huge improvement.
Skis were long and skinny back then, and ski clothing looked a bit different than it does now.
Here, my uncle and his wife show off their new ski pants, parka, and skis:

And here's what Alta ski resort looked like in 1947.

I'd hate to drive up a snowy canyon on those awful post-war tires!
And let's just say that that track of snow where people had been hiking up the hill to skit down wouldn't be there today.

(I pulled this shot off a yahoo search.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Proof That The Baby Meme Has Been Around Awhile

Baby memes.  They're all over the internet.  No doubt you've seen a few of these faces before:

But, as my mom and I were choosing which photos from her old scrapbooks should be digitized, we ran across this purchased snapshot, which Mom has found funny for decades:

(click to enlarge)
If you can't quite read the caption, it has the baby saying, "Well -- God damn!"

No doubt, pics of funny cats were sold somewhere, too -- although perhaps the original captions did not have them asking for cheeseburgers. :)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: Winterspell by Claire LeGrand

Here's the Amazon blurb about the book:
After her mother is brutally murdered, seventeen-year-old Clara Stole is determined to find out what happened to her. Her father, a powerful man with little integrity, is a notorious New York City gang lord in the syndicate-turned-empire called Concordia. And he isn’t much help.

But there is something even darker than Concordia’s corruption brewing under the surface of the city, something full of vengeance and magic, like the stories Clara’s godfather used to tell her when she was a little girl. Then her father is abducted and her little sister’s life is threatened, and Clara accidentally frees Nicholas from a statue that has been his prison for years. Nicholas is the rightful prince of Cane, a wintry kingdom that exists beyond the city Clara has known her whole life.

When Nicholas and Clara journey together to Cane to retrieve her father, Clara encounters Anise, the queen of the faeries, who has ousted the royal family in favor of her own totalitarian, anti-human regime. Clara finds that this new world is not as foreign as she feared, but time is running out for her family, and there is only so much magic can do...

And here's my take on it:

This is supposedly based on The Nutcracker ballet, but it's very, very loosely based on it.  The protagonist's name is Clara, of course.  There is Herr Drosselmeyer and Anise, who is based on the Snow Queen.  There is the briefest mention of Peter (Drosselmeyer's apprentice) at the very end, and there is the Christmas Eve scene with the growing tree.  Oh, and the names Anise and Cane (the magical land) fit into the old story.
But that's about it.  The Prince has not been trapped as a nutcracker.  The mice do not fight tin soldiers. The snow queen is not nice.  There is no international or confectionary entertainment.
It's a tale of magic and war.
Originally, it reminded me of Gears of Wonderland, as the world of Cane is a decidedly steampunk take on a childhood classic, and we deal with organized crime.  But Gears of Wonderland is less violent and less .... well, kinky.
So, what's good about this book?
The characterization is.  Clara develops a spine during the tale.  And the major supporting characters (Nicholas, Drosselmeyer, Anise) are multi-layered and complex.  That kept me reading.
The plot structure was also tight.  There weren't any real surprises, but the action kept building and the pacing was just right.
So, overall, it was a good read.
However, it was pretty violent and kinky.
In fact, I think this should be classed as New Adult rather than Young Adult.  It's much too heavy on the "adult" to be a kids' book.
There are lots of deaths, for one thing.  Clara's mother has been sliced open, torn apart, and branded with faery symbols.  And she's just the beginning.  (Nope, this is not a story about dancing children and Mother Buffoon.)

And then there's what seems to be a 50 Shades of Nutcracker bit going on.  (Confession: I have not read 50 Shades of Grey, but I know it's about S&M and bondage.)  Clara wants to make out with a statue in one scene.  Then we have the pedophile "doctor" (clearly inspired by HH Holmes) who gets sexually excited over vivisecting orphaned school girls (rape is implied as well) -- Clara is supposed to marry him/become his sex slave or else he'll rape and kill her little sister.  Oh, isn't that just sweet?   See what I mean about more "adult" than "young" here?
And the kinky stuff just keeps coming.  Nicholas is naked for most of his introductory scenes, Clara and Nicholas have to hide out in a bordello and pretend to be new recruits, and there's a heated scene wherein he almost rapes her to appease a voyeuristic crowd of faery watchers.  (Oh, but he "didn't want to."  He "hated doing it."  Sure.  Riiiight.)  If that isn't enough, readers are treated to several nights of Clara's lesbian longings for Anise as they lie naked in bed with each other and kiss.  (Ew.)  And then there's the "bonding" scene in which Clara becomes Nicholas' willing blood slave (oh, but he "promises" not to use her against her will, even though he's lied before and has violent tendencies) by getting naked in public, then slicing each other with knives, sharing blood, and arousing each other ---  in front of a crowd of people.
So, there are some books that are truly written for teenagers and not so much for adults who like to read about teenagers (such as The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy).  Then there are books that are written to be read by both teens and adults (such as Harry Potter).  And then there are books featuring young characters but which are not really for the 12- 18 crowd, but rather for adults who want adult books but without the "baggage" adult characters bring, for adults who want to read about the newness of adult themes, not about those already made jaded and cynical by it.  Winterspell fits nicely into that last category.

So, overall, it's a pretty good read, but I believe it is mislabeled as YA.  This book will certainly NOT be in my junior high classroom, and I think readers deserve to know that its intended audience is adults.
I still liked the book, even though I found the "ewwwww!" factor to be pretty high.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: Salt And Storm by Kendall Kulper

Do you love typical YA paranormal romance?  If so, then this is for you.

Avery Roe (who has a totally anachronistic name) is a witch -- sort of.  Her female family line (grumble... it resembles way too closely the set up I have in my Nerissa MacKay novels, so now people will think I stole the idea from Kulper.) has been sea witches on a small island filled with whalers for many years.  But Avery was stolen from her grandmother (who would have trained her) by her mother, who is a witch of a different kind (the real kind, the kind that is often spelled with a "B" instead of a "W.").
Avery is a total drama queen and throws major hissy fits about everything, especially about not being able to get back to her grandmother.  Eventually, even though Avery is short, unattractive, and a very unpleasant person, Tane, the exotic, tatooed sailor (who has waaaay too much free time, even though the boat is being repaired) from an island near New Zealand falls in love with her and gives her a tattoo.  Predictably, this allows her to use her magic, free herself from her mother, and have a big climactic scene that only needs Ursula the Sea Witch to be complete.

In spite of everything, she goes back to her mother -- mostly just so her mom can explain herself.  This, however, could have been done effectively by Mal, the good-guy sea captain and rejected lover, so it's kind of pointless.  Also, the mother's return to witchhood is out of character.

Thus, although it's missing the love-triangle element, it's pretty typical YA paranormal.
In fact, it would have been a completely boring read with irritating and hatable characters, but it is saved by the setting.
Kulper has really done her research -- and it shows.  The island, the time period (except for Avery's name), the weather, the whaling -- it feels real.  THIS is what kept me reading to the end.

Other good news: this is a stand-alone novel.  The end does NOT just leave you hanging for another volume to come.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The 2014 Fall Shakespeare Festival: My Review Of Boeing, Boeing

On September 26, 2014, I made my THIRD trek to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for this season, this time to see the autumn plays on their line up. 
To read my review of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, click here.
My review of Twelfth Night was posted in June.  However, I saw the play again in August, and it was still AWESOME.  I would gladly have paid to see it yet again, but time constraints for me made this impossible.  Click here to read my review.  In fact, if you can only see one play at the fall festival, it should be Twelfth Night.  It's the best.

Also, all photos, as well as ticket info and prices, can be found at bard.org.

Boeing, Boeing (named for the jets) is reportedly the most popular, most translated French play ever.
The basic plot (pilfered by Love, American Style numerous times) is a farce in which Bernard, an American architect living in Paris, has three fiancees: a New Yorker, an Italian, and a German.  Each woman is a flight attendant, and with their different schedules for different airlines, no one woman knows about either of the others.  When Bernard's old friend from Wisconsin arrives for a visit, Bernard explains that three is best for polygamy, as two would be monotonous and more than three would be too complicated.  (Note: yes, there is a great deal of irony in the fact that a French play celebrating polygamy is being performed in Utah.)  Bernard has no intent to marry any of the women; he's happy as he is, and his whole carefully-arranged schedule is workable because of his French housekeeper, Berthe.  Naturally, all the flight attendants' schedules get switched at the same time, and they all arrive at the apartment on the same weekend that Robert is there.  Chaos and hilarity follow.  

Maryann Towne plays Berthe.  While I wasn't impressed by her as Maria in Twelfth Night, her sarcastic tone and eye-rolling disgust work extremely well in this play.  She is one of the best parts of the whole thing and clearly the best of the women.

Grant Goodman is Bernard.  While he has been stiff and dull in both Twelfth Night and Sense and Sensibility, he's very fun in this role.  He is still totally unconvincing as a lover, however.  But at least we can believe he's a very worried man.
Quinn Mattfeld is in another supremely funny role as Robert.  Quinn is possibly the single funniest actor I've ever seen, and he does not disappoint in this play.
The set is also superb, with sixties weirdness abounding.  (I have a vintage sofa with matching chairs in that exact shade of blue!) And the gigantic tennis ball as furniture.... well, the actors certainly get to have fun with that prop!

Boeing, Boeing is a laugh-out-loud farce done with superb comic timing.  You will laugh.  Guaranteed.
Don't miss this gem!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The 2014 Fall Shakespeare Festival: My Review Of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

On September 26, 2014, I made my THIRD trek to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for this season, this time to see the autumn plays on their line up.
My review of Boeing, Boeing will be posted on 9/29/14.  To read it, click here.
My review of Twelfth Night was posted in June.  However, I saw the play again in August, and it was still AWESOME.  I would gladly have paid to see it yet again, but time constraints for me made this impossible.  Click here to read my review.  In fact, if you can only see one play at the fall festival, it should be Twelfth Night.  It's the best.

Also, all photos, as well as ticket info and prices, can be found at bard.org.

This script was written by a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but then the the playwright made friends with Conan Doyle and the play received his blessing, even though it does go against the grain for Holmes, as he is shown to be in love in the play -- a thing that most certainly never happens in any of the tales.
The basic plot is a mesh of "A Scandal in Bohemia" with "The Final Problem," and thus it combines the first and the last of the first two sets of Holmes stories.  (It also throws in tidbits from other tales, such as lifting the opening scene of The Sign of Four, wherein Holmes is shooting cocaine out of boredom and Watson is telling him it's bad for his health.)  Fans of the Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law movies will think the plot was stolen from Hollywood, but I'm pretty sure it was the other way around, as this script is roughly 100 years older.
The set for this production is lovely.  (And parts of it will definitely appeal to steampunk fans!)  The waterfall at the end is really well done.
The acting, as usual for the festival, is superb.  J. Todd Adams is Holmes and the ever-popular and incredibly talented Brian Vaughn is Watson.

Vaughn's Watson is much truer to the novels and stories; he is not like the stupid Watson made famous by the Basil Rathbone films, but much more like the Jude Law Watson.
The only problem I saw with this was that Vaughn, who could still pass for 30 if he chose to do so, played a mature Watson, while Adams, who is reportedly far past 30, played a very young Holmes.  This didn't work too well for me.
Irene Adler is played by Melinda Pfundenstein, and for once, this actually works.  Pfundenstein plays every single role as haughty, arrogant, and distant, but this really works for a cold-hearted Irene.
(Note: the director chose to have Irene's name pronounced as "eye-REEN-eee," which I've never heard before, not even among the literary upper crust at the University of Edinburgh.  I never learned why this decision was made, but it does make the name grate a bit.)

Professor Moriarty is well-played by Rick Peeples, who usually plays comic roles (he's Sir Toby in Twelfth Night).  But he fits very nicely into this part and really looks like a professor/criminal mastermind.

That's basically it.  There are no real weak spots.  It's a good play.  The whole thing stays quite true to Conan Doyle's original vision of the tales.  The set is great and the acting is very good.
It's a great mood-setter for Halloween.
Go see it!

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Pretty Much Sums Up An English Teacher's Life

Got this tweet the other day:

I am in grading hell. And there is no light. There's not even a tunnel. Just a black pit of failure to follow directions.

Yep, I feel for ya, Sista.  Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt.