Monday, February 28, 2011

30 Day Challenge--Day 10: A Memory from 10 years ago

I'm just not sure how I'm going to top Day 9. I even took a day off, hoping for some inspiration.

I'm really glad for today's topic, because 10 years ago was a bittersweet time for me. I read through my journal (I wrote a total of 3 entries in 2001--pretty typical, unfortunately). 10 years ago, I was still adjusting to our move across the country. I had 2 small children, and almost exactly a decade ago, we found out our next baby was going to be severely handicapped. The doctor's exact words were "And not in the cute, down-syndrome kind of way." Our baby had a hole in his brain called a dandywalker that would require shunts for drainage. I wrote "It's kind of like walking into your worst nightmare, and slowly figuring out it's not really a nightmare at all."

We were still adjusting to this shocking news when he died. We named him Benjamin. It was, quite possibly, the toughest time in my life so far, and yet my family has never felt so literally carried in our Heavenly Father's hands. I'm incredibly grateful for the knowledge that he'll be part of our family forever.

Here is the one journal entry from 2001 that doesn't deal directly with Benjamin, although you'll still feel reverberations:
Have you ever tried to be depressed with a four year old, a three year old, and a golden retriever puppy? I can't even curl into the fetal position or the dog will eat my hair, D will super-slam me and J will tickle me. I'm potty-training D, and so he was going around in one of my t-shirts and he crawled on the kitchen counter and peed everywhere. J just handed me $1.25 and said, "Here Mom. I'll give you sixty dollars and seventy two cents if you'll read us Christmas stories." I said, "You need to bribe your own mom into reading you stories?" and she said, "Of course." How can I be in a bad mood when my life is such a sitcom?
 I don't have any pictures of Benjamin to share, but here's a picture of Molly, my amazing dog who died a couple of months ago.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

30 Day Blog Challenge--Day 9: Something I Don't Leave My House Without

Unfortunately, I would leave the house without my head attached if there was any possible way to do it. But 99% of the time I don't leave the house without these:
Why I Love My Cloth Grocery Bags:
  • They magically turn me into Superwoman! With hardly any effort on my part, I'm single-handedly saving one corner of the world. Now I am ultra-aware how many plastic bags I would have gotten if I hadn't had my cloth bags with me. It's a lot. No wonder there are rumors of people building an island out of all the plastic bags we're using.
  • When I use them I feel like a super-organized genius. This is because I've had all these cloth bags for a long time, but I would never think about them until I was standing in line at the grocery store. When I finally got back to my car, with about 37 plastic bags, there the cloth bags would be, mocking me with their complete emptiness. Finally, I invested $4.50 and bought myself 3 of the fold-able kind with snaps. Now I keep them in a small bag along with my wallet and other essentials and I rarely forget them! And 3 of the fold-able grocery bags have about the same capacity as 37 plastic bags, so it's all good.
  • They make me feel European-ish. I have no idea why, but they do.
  • They are so much more convenient than plastic or paper bags. I remember the thrill I felt the first time my mom came home with plastic bags instead of paper. It was so much easier to unload the back of the station wagon that it was almost like a party. Well, cloth bags are THAT much better than plastic.

Friday, February 25, 2011

30 Day Blog Challenge: Day 8--A Song That Fits Your Mood

I think Lady Gaga (or was it Beyonce?) said it best:

"Stop calling, stop calling, I don't want to talk anymore..."

I made an error in judgment (or two) yesterday. L went to her first slumber party, and I let her take the cell phone. Not only did she keep us up half the night calling to check in every half hour (Hi! It's 1:39 and I just wanted to tell you I love you!...Hi! It's 2:10 and can you believe we're still awake?...), but she also called her grandparents at 1:00 in the morning. I finally asked the woman giving the party to confiscate the phone, but I didn't fall asleep until about 3:30. Of course our first regular phone call of the morning came at 6:15.

The song Telephone doesn't quite capture my feelings though, so here's my pick for today:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

30 Day Challenge--Day 7: A Picture That Makes Me Laugh

When I saw today's challenge, Gary Larson's Far Side was the first thing I thought of. Here's one website that will have you laughing until you cry.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

30 Day Challenge Day 6: One person you couldn't imagine your life without

The original question was : Who would you like to trade places with for a day?

You know, I couldn't think of anyone.

My life has its problems, but it's a comfort to know that I wouldn't trade it for anything else. On the other hand, it was making this blog post very boring, so I chose an alternate question.

My friend Susan is one person I couldn't imagine my life without. We're in the same ward, and she lives very close to the church building, while I live about half an hour away.

We're in the process of putting our house on the market so that we can move closer to church. It's a slow process, made slower by our crazy busy lifestyle. But if I were to be totally honest, the real reason our house in not already for sale is how overwhelmed I am at the whole thing.

Eleven years. That's how long I've lived in this house. It's pretty clean--never clean enough, in my opinion, and it's well lived in. We've got the magical kinds of bookshelves where books don't stay still. Wii remotes snake across our floor of their own volition, and marbles and legos multiply and scatter as soon as we turn our backs. It's a great house, but the thought of keeping it clean long enough to sell it makes me want to cry, and cry...and finally pray.

"Heavenly Father, I've never thought of myself as an incompetent person, but this simple thing that everyone has to do at some point in their lives has got me completely frozen. I don't know what to do! There are so many projects that I can't even pick one. I really, truly, from the bottom of my soul, need help."

My prayer started small and built into a silent kind of keening, that grew until it was finally answered by a phone call from Susan. "Melanie, if you want me, I've decided to come over to your house once a week until your house is ready to sell." And she has--for a couple of months now, she spends an entire day at my house. Together we get so much more done than I could ever have done on my own, even with twice the time.

At first I was thoroughly uncomfortable with that level of service. I knew it was something I could probably never repay, and I'm not sure anyone outside of my family has ever given that much to me before. We have a good time, chatting and laughing even while she cleaned out my trash compactor. My eyes still well up with tears when I think about it though, because it touches me on a deeply spiritual level.

For whatever reason, I couldn't do this thing. It didn't seem like it should be as impossible as it was, but I couldn't do it. To me, Susan was a little bit like Jesus Christ, who has given me a gift I quite simply can never repay. I can't do it alone, and so he's with me every step of the way, being the bridge to the places I can't get to on my own.

I feel the same sense of obligation, though on a much smaller scale, to Susan as I do to my Savior--an obligation to go out and make the world a better place, to try and lighten someone's load the way mine has been lightened.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

30 Day Challenge: Day 5: This Day in My Life (with a bonus Chuck promo!)

Image courtesy of Ohdeedoh

6:30 I sleep until this late, late hour, and then stumble around the house pretending to be helpful. R, J and D are spending the day skiing at Sugarloaf. Unfortunately, D is acting suspiciously like he might be getting sick. :(

7:30 They are finally off. It's just me, L and J #2 today. Our plans to spend the day with a friend have to be canceled because J #2 has a wicked sore throat. Instead, I critique a story for a friend, try to figure out this enigma called Squidoo and generally waste time until 8:30. Meanwhile, L and J are either sitting on my lap, coloring at the table or playing Wii Fit.

8:30-10:00 My plans for World Laundry Domination have been thwarted by J #1, who left 2 (two!) loads of wet clothes in the laundry room. I have regrouped, however, and now have plans for World Water Usage Domination--all my laundry, plus I didn't turn on the dishwasher last night, plus 1 shower and 2 baths, all (hopefully) before lunch today.

10:00-12:00 World Water Usage Domination is close to being on schedule. One lonely load of laundry left to be washed. I got sidetracked by a bookshelf moving project. In an astonishing turn of events, my bookshelves look very nice. A less astonishing side note--I now have books piled all over my living room floor.

12:00-5:00 All sorts of routine stuff, including boxing up the extra books, lunch, hangman with the kids and bringing wood in from the garage. I exercised! Then I went to my dentist appointment with two kids in tow. Fun, fun, fun!

This was actually J #1's appointment, but it's hard to get your teeth cleaned while skiing down the slopes. Since I had to cancel my appointment last week, I was glad to take her place. By the time I got to the dentist, L was sick again--pale, lying on the floor, miserable-looking sick. The poor kid. I thought she was finally over this. On the other hand, J #2 seems like he's feeling a little bit better.

Now I'm going to fold laundry while I watch Chuck vs The Masquerade. I haven't exactly been working my tail off today, but I think I still deserve a break. My dentist appointment wore both my sickly children out, so they are going to watch Blue's Clues for a while. My kids have a theory that Blue's Clues will cure most types of illness, but if it's REALLY bad, they need Kipper. If Kipper comes on, I might have to ditch Chuck. I love that puppy.

5:00  Chuck is amazing. Here's a promo for next week, you unfortunate people who haven't yet discovered Chuck and Co.:

 6:39 Everyone made it home safely and dinner's on the table. The kids are full of stories about half pipes and catching air, and R just reminded me the home teachers will be here in 20 minutes. Have a great night!

Monday, February 21, 2011

30 Day Challenge: Day 4--My Favorite Book

That's like asking me to tell you which child is my favorite. I just can't do it!

Of course there is my all-time favorite as yet unpublished book by that amazingly talented author--Melanie Crouse. The book is called Earth's Gate. And then there are the runners-up:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1) An Old-Fashioned Girl Pride And Prejudice Lark

I'm sure there are more, but those are the five that first come to mind.

Book Review: Pathfinder


by: Orson Scott Card
672 pages
published in 2010
5/5 stars 
Is this science fiction? Or is it fantasy? I'm not sure. Orson Scott Card twists the two so well that it really doesn't matter. I love Debbie Carton's review of Pathfinder for Booklist, and try as I might, I couldn't do better, so here it is: 
The first in a series, Card’s latest title has much in common with his Ender Wiggins books: precocious teens with complementary special talents, callously manipulative government authorities, endlessly creative worlds, and Card’s refusal to dumb down a plot for a young audience. Here he takes the notions of folding space and time, embracing paradox, “adopting a rule set in which . . . causality . . . controls reality, regardless of where it occurs on the timeline.” Thirteen-year-old Rigg is a Pathfinder, one who sees the paths of others’ pasts. Rigorously trained and thoroughly educated by his demanding father, Rigg is horrified when Father dies unexpectedly after a final order to find the sister he never knew he had. Rigg is accompanied on this journey by a small group of friends who have powers of bending and manipulating the flow of time. Card also skillfully twines a separate story line into the plot, featuring earth’s colonization of distant planets, led by the idealistic young pilot Ram Odin. Fast paced and thoroughly engrossing, the 650-plus pages fly by, challenging readers to care about and grasp sophisticated, confusing, and captivating ideas. As in L’Engle’s Time Quartet, science is secondary to the human need to connect with others, but Card does not shy away from full and fascinating discussions of the paradoxical worlds he has created. Grades 8-12. --Debbie Carton
My review:
You already know how I feel about Orson Scott Card. I think he's a genius--not just sort of a genius, but a Benjamin Franklin, Mensa should be so lucky-type. I think this is one of his best. I was so excited about Lost Gate, but after reading this one I remember what genius is. Debbie Carton was right to compare Rigg to Ender. This book still hasn't toppled my triumvirate of OSC books (Ender's Game, Speaker For The Dead and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus) but Pastwatch is teetering...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

30 Day Challenge: Day 3--My Favorite Television Show

As if you didn't know...
It's Chuck, baby!
If you don't already know, (and I'm always shocked by how many people DON'T already know--obviously they are not my friends on facebook) Chuck is on NBC on Monday nights. It's the action dramedy about Chuck, an underachieving nerd with all of our nations secrets downloaded into his brain. I have loved watching him transition from a clumsy geek to a powerhouse spy. Even better, the clearplay DVD player cleans this television show up seamlessly. Best yet--so far, season 4 barely needs cleaning up.

Don't know what a clearplay DVD player is? Just wait a few more days.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 2: 5 Little Things That Make Me Happy

1. The feeling of blankets wrapped around my bare feet at night.

2. When one of my children calls my attention to something because they want to share it with me. This happened last night at 3 a.m.
L: I called you in here to look at the night sky.
Me: (yawning) It's beautiful.
L: I know. I can't take my eyes off it.

3. Puddles!

4. Sitting by the fire reading a good book or watching a good movie.

5. When the lyrics in a song really flow. You know what I'm talking about--when one line in a song gives you happy shivers. It rarely has to do with what the song is saying, it's the way they say it.

The Eagles singing Desperado:
Don't your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won't snow and the sun won't shine.
It's hard to tell the night time from the day.
You're losing all your highs and lows,
Ain't it funny how the feeling goes away?

Friday, February 18, 2011

DAY 1: 15 Things About Me

1. I have four amazing children, a great husband and a cat named Tiger, plus a still-born baby and a golden retriever waiting for us in heaven.

2. Our dog died two months ago, and since then Tiger has been doing her best to drive me crazy--scratching everyone and flicking her tail in my face. Plus she's always on the wrong side of every door, especially at two o'clock in the morning.

3. I'm not really an animal person, so I'm not sure why my first three things involved animals.

4. However, when I was a kid, I did plan to make my living riding whales at Sea World in San Diego.

5. Our house is for sale.

6. I've written several novels--only one is really polished enough to consider trying to sell.

7. I can't seem to make myself try to sell it.

8. Which in a complicated, convoluted way is why I started this blog in the first place. Don't ask.

9. I was raised in Utah, but now I live in a small town in central Maine. I miss the mountains all the time, but if I ever moved back I think I'd miss the lakes at least as much, maybe more.

10. I am a Mormon, and I love every minute of it.

11. I am the young women's president.

12. I'm not very athletic, but I get my best ideas for my novels while I'm hiking, snow shoeing and swimming.

13. I wish I lived near a big enough city that I could take boxing, fencing and zumba lessons.

14. When we hear a song I know in public, my kids all grip my arms and hiss under their breath: "Do Not start singing or dancing" OR, if they are slow on the uptake, then they hiss "Stop it" (and it takes a conscious act of will on my part to obey them. I think I'm alone far too much...)

15. I'm 39 and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up, but it involves some combination of writing and teaching.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Am Number Four

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies)I AM NUMBER FOUR
by: Pittacus Lore
440 pages
published in 210

Oh my goodness. I've got so much to say about this book, I don't want to bother writing a summary. Really, the book's cover says it all..."Three are dead. I am number four."

Doesn't that give you chills? 9 alien children from the planet Lorien are growing up on the planet Earth. They don't have any contact with each other, but they are bound together by a spell. As long as they never meet, they can only be killed in order. And the Mogadorians want them dead. Number Four knows when the first three die because a scar appears on his leg. He knows he is next.

Since Hunger Games, so many authors are trying to write in present tense. When done correctly, it is an amazing way to write action/adventure, because it makes the reader feel like they are right there in the middle of it all. But no one can do present tense like Suzanne Collins, including the mythical Pittacus Lore. His action/adventure is amazing. But he doesn't have the knack for making exposition flow in present tense. It's tough. His slower moments end up reading like this, "In today's game, one of her brothers and her father like one of the teams, while her other brother likes the other team. They argue with each other, taunt each other, cheer and groan depending on what's happening in the game." Yeah. Really.

I also had a difficult time believing some of the characters motivations, especially when he stays in town, although he knows he's putting his girlfriend at risk. Another character completely switches personalities for the last 90 pages of the book. I'm willing to let that one go, pending finding out a really great reason why in the sequel--cause I'll be there for the sequel. Everything I just wrote, and about a dozen other problems with the book, won't stop me from reading The Power of Six when it comes out in August 2011.

As I read, I felt almost like I was reading a very detailed screen play. This was one book that was made to be a movie. And I don't have long to wait. The movie comes out next week. With Alex Pettyfer as the star, no less. It's going to be amazing.

I recommend this book for most teenagers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Crouse Family Top 10 List of Retro Songs

It didn't work out the way I expected.

I just assumed that the music I remember loving when I was young would be a part of my life forever. When I got my first mp3 player, Duran Duran was one of the first things I downloaded. We don't get in the mood for that as much as I thought we would. And is it possible for anyone to not like End Of The Road by Boyz II Men? My kids don't.

Here is a top 10 list of oldie songs we do love. This list is in a constant state of flux because we keep remembering new ones.

10. Desperado (LP Version) by the Eagles

9. I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred

8. Mr. Mom by Lonestar.

7.5  What About Now by Lonestar. My kids love it, but it probably wouldn't have made this list except that it's one of my all time favorite songs.

7. Lucille (2006 Digital Remaster) by Kenny Rogers. And The Gambler, and Coward Of The County (2006 Digital Remaster) This list isn't doing a very good job staying at only 10...

6. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown by Jim Croce

5. It's My Party by Lesley Gore

4. My Boyfriend's Back by the Angels

3. Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N'Roses (And OK, just about anything by Def Leppard, but I'm running out of space here. And did you see Slash during the halftime show last night??? Good times, good times)

2. Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor (Mainly because of this video...)
This was an outtake--The actor who plays Sam had missed his cue, but no one called "cut!" so
the actor who plays Dean kept going. Isn't he awesome? But I digress...

1.5 I almost forgot!!! My kids adore Elvira by the Oak Ridge Boys.

Drum roll please: The number one oldie song in our family at the moment is:

1. You're So Vain by Carly Simon. You walked into the party, like you were walking onto a yacht... We can't hear it and not sing along. It's impossible.

What are your favorite songs from the "olden days"? 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Josh Turner

Holy mackerel. He has a sexy voice.

In this song, his voice is so decadent that I kept thinking the lyrics had to be sinful. But they're not.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Lost Gate

The Lost Gate (Mither Mages)THE LOST GATE

by: Orson Scott Card
378 pages
published in 2010
Genre: Fantasy

The trickster god Loki has imprisoned several warring clans of gods on Earth for centuries, where they have forged a fragile truce. Without access to their homeland, their magic has become diluted. Everyone in the North family knows that Danny is a drekka--a god stuck on Earth without any magic at all. But then Danny realizes he is a gatemage, with the power, but not the skill necessary to reopen the gate to their homeland of Westil. As he flees for his life from those who would either kill him or force him to work for them, he discovers that the clans were not the only people stranded on Westil when the gates closed.

This novel is really two stories, set on alternate worlds. Danny's story takes up the majority of the novel, but meanwhile, the story of a boy called Wad is unfolding on Westil. To the average observer, Wad seems like the least important person in the kitchens at the castle, yet his power and influence will determine the destiny of the whole country.

First of all, Orson Scott Card is such a hero of mine that I nearly find myself tongue-tied at my own audacity. How can I review one of his books when his characters have been the inspiration for so much of my own life? I see other reviewers calling him "Card" and it makes me wince at the disrespect. Crazy, I know. So here goes...

Orson Scott Card's characters are usually super intelligent, but they still make lots of mistakes. They usually learn to screw up more thoughtfully the next time and they never give up. As their ability to achieve their objectives evolves, their ability to empathize with the people around them grows as well, and that is the charm of his books. I love, love, love falling into one of OSC's worlds, and this was no exception.

At first, I was hopeful that OSC had finally created another Ender (Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1)just for me. And then Danny seemed more like Bean (Ender's Shadow (Ender, Book 5) which was also acceptable. But by the end of the book, he was just Danny--still gifted like Ender and Bean, but with his own personality--as sly as Bean, but much more comfortable with his own sense of humor.

Because The Lost Gate takes place in such a complicated world, much of the novel is explanation and exposition. But OSC is a master storyteller. He weaves the physics of gatemaking almost seamlessly into the narrative. I enjoyed every page.

The Lost Gate is a crossover novel--marketed to both teenagers and adults. I recommend it only for very mature teens. The writing is complex and Danny and Wad find themselves in some adult situations. Although my kids loved Ender's Game, I'm not ready to recommend this one to them yet.