Sunday, August 31, 2008

Win a Book - Far World: Water Keep

I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Actually, my wife is thinking of the number. I like to involve the family.

Whoever guesses closest in the comments wins a copy of Far World: Water Keep.

You have until Midnight Tuesday.


Review: Far World: Water Keep

I had the great privilege this past summer to preview the first book in the new Far World series, Water Keep, by J. Scott Savage. I've learned a lot from J. Scott, (also known as Jeffrey S. Savage) by reading his blogs (here and here) and attending his workshops at writer's conferences.

Plus, Jeff and Scott are good friends with James Dashner, and I trust his judgment.

Other people may see thirteen-year-old Marcus Kanenas as an outcast and a nobody, but he sees himself as a survivor and a dreamer. In fact, his favorite dream is of a world far away, a world where magic is as common as air, where animals tell jokes, and trees beg people to pick their fruit. He even has a name for this place-Far World. When Marcus magically travels to Far World, he meets Kyja, a girl without magic in a world where spells, charms, and potions are everywhere, and Master Therapass, a master wizard who has kept a secret hidden for thirteen years, a secret that could change the fate of two worlds.

But the Dark Cicle has learned of Master Therapass’s secret and their evil influence and power are growing. Far World’s only hope is for Marcus and Kyja to find the mythical Elementals-water, land, air, and fire-and convince them to open a drift between the worlds. As Kyja and Marcus travel to Water Keep, they must face the worst the evil Dark Circle can through at them-Summoners, who can command the living and the dead; Unmakers, invisible creatures that can destroy both body and soul; and dark mages known as Thrathkin S’Bae. Along the way, Marcus and Kyja will discover the truth about their own heritage, the strength of their friendship, and the depths of their unique powers.

This book, aimed at the YA fantasy market, was a lot of fun to read. We went right to work on it as the girl's bedtime story. The girls and I really enjoyed reading the book.

Well, actually Alyssa fell asleep, which is what she always does during the bedtime story.

However, the story kept Anna riveted. I would read the requisite chapter, and Alyssa would fall asleep. Then I would read another chapter, because I wanted to see what happened. And then I would try and stop, and Anna would say "Don't you dare stop now!"

But I stopped anyway, because I have to maintain some semblance of authority.

This was a fun book to read, and the girls and I are both looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Far World: Water Keep is available this September from Shadow Mountain Books.

Running Behind

Guess what I found out today? Our ward still has opening hymns at the beginning of church. I mean, I didn't have any reason to doubt this, but I haven't seen it for myself in a while.

I've been way behind on a lot of things lately, and this blog is no exception. Unfortunately, it's actually kind of the prime example of my behindedness. Which is too bad, because there has been a lot going on. For example:
  • Wednesday night, smoke came billowing out of the garbage disposal. Thursday morning I gathered up bits and pieces from unfinished and abandoned projects and returned them to Home Depot for enough in-store credit to get a replacement.
  • Friday afternoon Anna arrived at the house in tears, having brought her baritone home for the first time. Technically, what she has is a euphonium, and for a not-quite-eleven-year-old, it's a bit large. (See the comparison below) We bought her a luggage cart at Wal-Mart to haul the thing around. I could have used one of those during my tuba days...
  • We've been getting the house ready for a new house guest. This may be a longer-term visitor. She's an LDS gal from Utah Kara met at the clinic. Her name is Cara (not to be confused with Kara my wife or Karra my sister).
  • I'm trying hard to have a draft of my book done in time for my reader's group this Thursday. I'll be sending this to several other beta readers, so I really want it to be good.
  • I need to do a review of Farworld: Water Keep and hold a contest to give away a copy to one of you! Stay tuned - I'm scheduled to do this at the end of August, and since it's the 31st, I have about 6 1/2 hours. I'll do it after dinner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Don't You Marry The Mormon Boys

A few months ago, I was asked by Janet Kay Jensen to review her book Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys. My schedule got a bit out of whack this summer, but I have finally put a review together.

This is Janet's first novel, though she has quite a bit of writing experience. You can learn more about her at her website here.

Gather 'round, girls, and listen to my noise,
Don't you marry the Mormon boys;
If you do your fortune it will be,
Johnnycake and babies is all you'll see.
-old western folksong

When Andy McBride met Louisa Martin, he knew he had found the girl for him. There was only one problem: polygamy - a lifestyle that Louisa could not escape and Andy would not embrace.

As medical students at the University of Utah, Andy and Louisa fall in love - but can a mainstream Mormon and a Fundamental polygamist overcome the cultural barriers between them? Both realize that their choices will not only affect their own lives, but will also have an impact on their family, friends, and even their communities. Fearing that the sacrifices required of them would be too great, they go their separate ways.

Yet for Andy in Kentucky and Louisa in Utah, life does not go as they'd planned. While Andy is serving as a country doctor and trying to bury his pain, Louisa is coming to terms with the fact that all is not as perfect in her tight-knit community as she'd believed. As doctors, each will have to choose between keeping the peace in their communities or doing what they know is right. And someday, both will have to face their past and decide if they can make the sacrifice to be together.

Set in the red hills of southern Utah, the cosmopolitan center of Salt Lake City, the Smoky Mountains of Kentucky, and the lake-studded country of Finland, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys is the heartfelt and engaging story about the power of love and acceptance in an ever-changing and often surprising world.

I enjoyed reading this book. The premise is certainly intriguing, and Janet does a wonderful job at painting a vivid picture of life in rural Kentucky and a polygamous community in Southern Utah.

Her characters are likable and real. The outcome of the relationship is easy to predict, but the real fun comes in trying to guess just how they will finally get there.

I did have a some issues with a few parts of the book. First, I struggled to accept that a polygamous society as staunchly patriarchal as those in Gabriel's Landing would allow one of their women to become a doctor, especially sending her to study in the outside world.

Much of the book is written with the two main characters leading separate lives while remembering the relationship they had during school. I felt that once the characters met up again, everything fell into place just a little too neatly, and received far too little attention.

Also, the ending of the book, which had the potential for significant drama and suspense, was instead played to a more comic effect, which I felt was out of character with the rest of the story.

Still, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys was an enjoyable read, and I appreciate having the opportunity to review it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So Begins 2008-2009

We survived the first day of school (and at this point, at least for Alyssa, the second day). The morning routine started a little later than usual, due to a combination of Kara being here to help and my desire to begin exercising in the morning, which postpones the daily shower by a few hours.

Both girls were up and ready to go. We let them sleep on the bedroll in our room, which they see as a big treat. Actually, they're starting to see it as a God-given right, so we may have to work on that a bit.

As a special back-to-school breakfast treat, we made strawberry muffins Sunday afternoon. Too many strawberries caused them to fall flat, but they taste very good.

Kara and I tag-teamed Alyssa, helping her get dressed (though this year she's doing everything but her shirt by herself), doing her hair, and getting her lunch packed. She was very excited about her bus coming again.

Anna decided to get up at the same time as everyone else, even though her bus comes an hour later this year. This gave her a chance to eat leisurely, play a little Wii and spend quality time with her piggies.

Kara and I got the bikes out and went for a short ride once Alyssa was on the bus. (We did the same thing this morning, working through the "it's been too long since I've been on a bike" pain in a strategic place.)

Then we walked Anna up to the bus stop and waited with her. She's really growing into quite the young lady.

Once the busses had both come and gone, Kara and I walked home, commenting on how we never cried when our kids went to school - not even Kindergarten. Alyssa began getting a few hours of special needs preschool at the local elementary when she was maybe 3, and so her transition to Kindergarten was very gradual.

Anna was such an energetic fireball that we felt nothing but relief when she tore into her Kindergarten class - especially since she was born four days after the public school deadline, and we worked very hard to find a school that would take her based on ability rather than her age.

The day proceeded very calmly. I got my work done. Kara got her work done. Plus she got a nap.

Aside from the notes and forms and handbooks that came home, it could very easily have been the 42nd day of school. In all, rather unremarkable.

You know what? I think I like it that way. It's about time there was a touch of "normal" around here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Surprise Packages

"Fifteen years after meeting at Education Week at Brigham Young University, Juneau, Deenie, and Erin face new challenges. Deenie, now living in Gainesville, Florida, begins to question everything she has believed about herself as she sees her actions through others' eyes. Juneau's feelings of guilt come to a head when a secret from her childhood and the mystery of her great-grandmother, Letitia, combine to force her to confront her past. And Erin, whose painful divorce has made her cynical about love and marriage, must decide if she can take a risk when she has a second chance for love.

"Staying in touch through phone calls, e-mails, and periodic vacations together, the friends offer one another support, sometimes in the form of blunt feedback. But as they anticipate reaching their goal to become Crusty Old Broads, life takes a turn that puts their twenty-five-year pact in doubt."

Surprise Packages is the third and final book in The Company of Good Women series. The authors, Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke, and Carrol Hofeling Morris, call themselves the "Crusty Old Broads," a title they've conferred upon their characters as well.

As I read through this book, it reminded me of listening to my mom and her sisters catching up on each other's lives. I don't know who half of the many peripheral characters are (although I feel like I should), but I'm able to follow well enough that the stories are interesting anyway.

It's also like reading through the "Slice of Life" style blogs of three best friends. The three authors of Surprise Packages each wrote the story of one of the three main characters. The story alternates between the characters in little snippets, usually no more than a page or two long. Perfect for my current short attention span.

This style of writing is unusual, but I think it works here. I found it easy to pick up the book, read one or three of the short story snippets, and then get on with my day. Unfortunately, this style of reading makes for slow going, but although I haven't finished the book yet I'm certain I will. The women's stories are fun and interesting, if not riveting.

In all, I would certainly recommend Surprise Packages, and will likely add the other two books to future summer reading lists.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

In Honor Of Back To School...

In honor of back to school time, it's book blog tour week at Fifteen Minutes of Delusion.

Tomorrow (Monday, August 25) I host Surprise Packages by the Crusty Old Broads.

On Wednesday, August 27, I talk about Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen.

Then on Friday, I will host Far World Water Keep, by J. Scott Savage. As an added bonus, I will be running a contest August 26-28, where you can win your very own copy of this exciting new book, which is not even in stores yet. So stay tuned.

I will also try and keep you up to date on the many happenings as the girls start back to school tomorrow. In less than 12 hours.

Not that I'm counting or anything.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mowing Day on Trinity Court

After more than a week of frequent rain, we've had a few sunny days. As a result, the mowers have been running all day along the street. Mine included.

Since I hadn't mowed out back since June, the need was acute. Although, to be honest, a long dry spell this summer greatly reduced yard care urgency. This dry spell now appears to be over.

So, with a bit of lawn mowing effort I have managed to turn myself into a bundle of achy stiffness. We'll see how much of this is age, and how much is the Lyme treatment. The doctor yesterday told me to take a month off from my antibiotics. It's only been a day, and I think I'm already starting to feel some improvement. We'll see.

Anna's Lyme test came back, and while the results weren't as overwhelmingly positive as mine, they are still pretty clearly so. We've decided not to start her on antibiotics until next month, when the school year is well underway.

The guinea pigs are still doing fine. Anna is too busy taking care of them to blog about them, and I've got too much to do keeping up my two blogs to try and do that one. We added Kara to the Guinea Pigs and More blog authors, so maybe she'll write a bit. She enjoys the piggies, and has a funny story about how she woke up this morning...

The girls had a primary swim party today. I talked to one of the other parents who has a child starting at McAnally with Anna this fall, and she also lacks a sense of warm fuzziness about the the way this school year has started. Hopefully things will look less bleak next weekend, once the first week of school is done.

The first week of school! Next week! Starting Monday! The day after tomorrow! Buses begin arriving in 40 hours!

Not that I really care or anything...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Tale of Two Schools

Not to slight the schools in the town where we used to live, but we have been very pleased with the education our girls have been getting since we moved her to Texas.

I fear that may change this school year.

Tonight was Meet and Greet at Alyssa's school, and New Student Orientation at Anna's new school. Two very different experiences.

We went to Alyssa's school, and met her teachers. They seem very nice, and we got the few questions we had answered quickly and easily.

We then came home for a quick dinner and tire change (and accompanying shower), then went to Anna's school for the orientation. This did not go so well.

First off, the "orientation" was a Powerpoint presentation in the cafeteria to an overflow, standing-room only crowd. We couldn't hear very well, but the little bit we did hear was all information that would have been better presented in a series of handouts.

That was it. No teachers. No answers to pressing questions. We came out with more questions than we went in with. In fact, the only question that did get answered was "Are we the only ones who think this was a waste of time?" Talking to other parents and 6th graders, the answer was an unqualified "No."

On the way home, poor Anna said "Now I'm really not looking forward to school on Monday.

I'm hoping things go a little better once school actually starts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Alyssa's New School

Sunday afternoon we went to an open house for Alyssa's new school, McCall Elementary.

I love the tile on the wall - very stylish and durable.

Alyssa constantly asked to go to "PE" so we found the gym. It's pretty nice, with a soft, rubberized floor.

This is Alyssa with her Functional Academics teacher, Mrs. Mraz. We'll find out who her mainstream 4th grade teacher is Thursday at Meet the Teacher.

And of course, no elementary school is complete without a fun and exciting playground.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Piggies and a Princess

Anna has had a lot of fun with the guinea pigs since she's been home. So has Alyssa.

She has them all over the house. It's a good thing these are social creatures, because otherwise they'd be socialized to death.

Even Kara likes them.

Today I put in a complete new kitchen in 30 minutes. It keeps the food in one end of the cage and the rest of the cage stays clean.

Guinea pigs poop "at the speed of light" and their innards work like a conveyor belt, with the food going in and coming out at the same time. This way, ALL of the messes stay in one little section of the cage.

Tonight we had a big community party for Jessie Hall. You may have heard of her - she's a little girl who had a hemispherectomy to help stop seizures, and her story has been on the national news several times.

Anyway, she lives in the little town next to ours, and she's been home and having a super recovery. The party was organized by a lady in our ward.

Anna decided to get her face painted.

Here she is - the flower fairy princess.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

...And They're Home!

Safe and sound after a five-leg journey (including two car rides and a three-hop flight).

Anna made it to Guinea Pig Land without exploding!

Although as we got close to the house, I started to wonder.....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Home Is Where The Family Pictures Are

We finally have our family pictures hung on the wall. We started this project on Saturday, and finished up tonight.

I like it.

And We're Home

Last night wasn't too bad. My bed was pretty new, so it was fairly comfortable. The mattress crinkled and the springs popped, and Kara said that kept her awake. It didn't bother me - I slept with ear plugs in.

Kara didn't sleep all that well, and the noisy mattress was only a part of it. She thinks she was reacting to something she took. Probably so.

Every time I looked over, she had the Olympics on. Thank goodness for all night coverage.

Everything went well on the ride home. We synced up our drive time with her pain pill schedule, and that worked great.

Once home, she took a couple of long naps on the couch while I worked. Hopefully she'll still be able to sleep tonight.

Our babies come home tomorrow night. I'm excited to see them, although I'm not sure I'm ready for them to be home quite yet. But only 12 more days until school starts!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Surgery Update #4

Kara's still doing well. We are going to stay overnight at the hospital, just to be safe. Plus it's a long ride back to the house, and the shocks on the van are pretty old.

We'll leave to go home tomorrow.

Surgery Update #3

Kara's out of the recovery room. It took a while, but she typically takes longer than usual to come out from the anesthesia. Still, I was starting to get a little worried.

But she's looking great, smiling and animated.

They have her in a regular room, but we still don't know if we'll be going home tonight or not.

Surgery Update #2

Kara's surgery is done. They moved her down to recovery, and it will be a half-hour or so until I can go see her.

The doctor said everything went well, and she's looking good on the inside. He gave me some pictures, but I'm not sure I'd post them even if I could.

Surgery Update #1

We made it to the hospital OK this morning, and Kara has been in surgery for about 30 minutes now. The doctors have both worked with her before, and they are both very good. Our confidence is high this morning.

We got a little off our schedule yesterday, what with the guinea pigs and all. That put us behind getting everything packed up for today, which put us behind watching The Return of the King last night, so we didn't get to bed until much later than I wanted.

Once we did get to bed, Kara kept waking me up. I guess she was dreaming about orcs or something.

We were up by 5:00 and on our way by 5:40. It took us just over an hour to get here, and I'm a bit surprised at just how heavy traffic was. Days like today I'm especially grateful for my non-commute.

Kara got all changed into her little robe, and we both got a short snooze before they moved her to pre-op. Once there, the poor nurse spent half an hour trying to find the glass IV bottles that the doctor had ordered for Kara, as she reacts to the plastic bags. We could hear her working away on the phone, calling supervisors and more supervisors. Finally the bottles, which Kara's doctor assured her were in and ready last week, were found.

Kara just laughed and repeated what has become a favorite saying amongst she and her friends - "I cause a scene wherever I go."

Anyway, I'm securely attached to the power outlet in the waiting room, with (hopefully) enough Dr. Pepper to keep me awake until the surgery is done. I've been very good about getting enough sleep this summer, and it has really helped. I'm a little surprised at just how tough it's been to stay awake this morning.

Just more evidence that once school starts I need to guard my sleep time very aggressively.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too Much Action for a Sunday

Today has been a fairly intense day. It started out when the alarm went off at 6:30, and I turned it off so I could sleep until 7:00 and didn't wake up until 7:58. Oops.

I managed to scurry around and get myself on the road by 8:35, which is the same time I usually start driving when I have to chase the girls around in the morning. It's also the departure time that gets us to church exactly 5 minutes late.

(Sigh) Can't blame the kids for that one.

Then while at church, I got a text from Kara informing me that what I thought was Alyssa's loose tooth turned out to be a loose crown, and the crown had fallen off.

Remember that the girls are visiting their grandparents. I felt terrible! But grandparents are full of experience and they capably handled this crisis on their end. Being in a small town and knowing the dentist personally, they were able to get the tooth looked at and treated, even on a Sunday.

We're busy trying to get ready for Kara's surgery tomorrow. We're planning on spending the night, just in case, packing clothes and other essentials.

And to top it all off, while getting ready for our surgery adventure, the phone rang.

It was the guinea pig lady. Yup, you guessed it: The guinea pigs came to our house a few days early. Click here for photos and the complete story.

Hopefully Anna doesn't start running towards home as soon as she sees the pictures...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My Body Mocks My Agedness

I had a pretty big list of things to get done today. My body decided it was old and conked out after the first few.

To be fair, the first task involved hoisting a dozen or so boxes and bins into the attic, some of them containing books. The second task was to rearrange the living room. These are pretty big tasks and took multiple hours and a fair bit of physical exertion.

Wii Fit never made me ache like this.

I feel old. Even my aches have aches.

Movies and a Clean House

So far, the two biggest advantages of our childless week are 1) once part of the house gets clean, it stays clean and 2) we get to watch movies that aren't animated or full of whining, singing teenagers.

We watched 27 Dresses on Thursday night, which is about whining, singing 20-somethings.

Last night we watched The Fellowship of the Ring, which is full of computer-animated sets and creatures.

OK, so I guess not much has really changed since the girls left.

Oh, actually, there is one important difference. Last night my pizza had ham and pineapple on the whole thing! None of this half-cheese business. No siree. With the girls gone, we're living the high life.

Stay tuned for today's incredibly exciting job recap, proving that all of the mess and mayhem in our lives is really the kids fault, and without them we could be reasonably well organized people.

Not that we'd trade our kids for a clean house. At least, not for more than a week.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Empty Nesters

We got the girls delivered safely to Southwest this morning, and Southwest got them delivered safely to Grandma.

Kara spent her day doing doctor things, and I've been sequestered away in the library, working hard. Just as advertised.

She's on her way to get me now, and then we'll head over to a friend's place to eat our dinners. I brought left over chili and noodles.

I'm not sure what Kara brought, but I don't think it's yak.

We have four days without the girls before Kara goes in for surgery. Could be fun.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Head 'Em Up, Move 'Em Out

To celebrate the pending removal of Kara's gall bladder, Grandma and Grandpa are treating the girls to an all-expense paid trip to Washington. The trip includes airfare to SeaTac and ground transportation to the fertile Columbia Basin, where fresh produce and semi-tame cats are on the agenda.

The house has been a flurry of finding and packing the last few days, and we leave for the airport early in the morning tomorrow.

Since tomorrow is Kara's pre-op visit in Dallas, we have decided to make a day of it. I will hunker down in a library somewhere and work as much as I can, while Kara will take care of all of her doctor visits.

Surgery is scheduled for Monday.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Way Things Went

  1. Alyssa played Nintendogs on Anna's DS
  2. Daddy played Frankenstein's Monster and carried Alyssa to brush her teeth
  3. Anna's DS played suicidal and took a flying leap
  4. Anna played drama queen when the DS screen detached
  5. Daddy did a Google search on "How to disassemble a DS"
  6. Daddy proved he has some technical competence
  7. They all lived happily ever after

Things Heating Up on the Guinea Pig Front

Oh, my freakin' heck, this guinea pig thing is getting out of hand. Anna has been in tears because she just can't wait another 10 days to get these little rodents.

I remember being so excited about something I thought I would explode, but it never drove me to tears. Perhaps it's female prepubescence complicating the picture.

The girls leave for Grandma and Grandpa's house in Washington on Wednesday. They will be gone for a week. During that time, Kara will have her gall bladder out. And maybe we'll clean out the girl's room.

Really clean it out.

And trust in the out of sight, out of mind philosophy that has usually served us so well.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

And The Tough Jobs Start To Fall

The car is gone; delivered to the buyer. Finally. Hooray.

This happened early this morning in the parking lot of the store where we were doing more back to school shopping - this time for clothes.

I'm really glad Kara is around to take Anna on her trips to the underwear section.

We also got ourselves moved out of one of the remaining two storage units. One more to go. Hopefully a big yard sale sometime in the cooler months will allow us to get completely out of there.

I started working on some difficult paperwork for a big task. It's been rather unpleasant, but it needs to be done. Hopefully I can get it wrapped up soon

I like when I can share a bit of humor in this blog, but the only really funny thing that happened today was my impersonation of Anna and her morning routine, and that doesn't translate very well to a blog post. So here's a funny but completely unrelated cartoon.