The Letter R (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 21, 2015

The Beginning of the Armadillos, by Rudyard Kipling

In Rudyard Kipling’s tale The Beginning of the Armadillos,* two friends named Slow-and-Solid Tortoise and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog live and play together in a very Frog-and-Toad-like way along the banks of the turbid Amazon.  One morning a young and hungry Painted Jaguar approaches them with the idea of breakfast and the animals are able to thwart him, at first by Slow-Solid by retreating into his shell and by Stickly-Prickly shoving spines into the big kitten’s paw.  Then they confuse him with a mixture of distorted truth and outright deception, baffle him with twisted and clever back chat and finally tie him up in a tangle of semantics.  Frustrated and still hungry, Painted Jaguar runs crying to his Mummy.

The two friends eavesdrop on their conversation and are horrified to hear Mummy providing Painted Jaguar with detailed, species-specific instructions on how to kill and eat tortoises and hedgehogs.  It is obvious that Painted Jaguar now knows exactly what’s what and the two friends are resigned to the fact that he will be back to get them in the morning and that this time he will be armed with a fatally accurate knowledge of their respective weaknesses.

“I do not like this old lady at all — at all,” said Slow-and-Solid Tortoise.  “Even Painted Jaguar can’t forget those directions.  It’s a great pity you can’t swim, Stickly-Prickly.

“Don’t talk to me,” said Stickly-Prickly.  “Just think how much better it would be if you could curl up.  This is a mess!”

But forewarned is forearmed, and the animals do not panic but instead calmly set to work to save themselves, working through the night as each shares with the other the skills of bending and of swimming, conversing all the while in the fun, finicky language of old bachelors.

Stickly-Prickly helped to unlace Tortoise’s back plates, so that by twisting and straining Slow-and-Solid actually managed to curl up a tiddy wee bit.

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly; “but I shouldn’t do any more just now.  It’s making you black in the face.  Kindly lead me into the water once again and I’ll practice that sidestroke which you say is so easy.”  And so Stickly-Prickly practiced, and Slow-Solid swam alongside.

“Excellent!” said Slow-Solid. “A little more practice will make you a regular whale.  Now, if I may trouble you to unlace my back and front plates two holes more, I’ll try that fascinating bend that you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

“Excellent!” said Stickly-Prickly, all wet from the Turbid Amazon.  “I declare, I shouldn’t know you from one of my own family.  Two holes, I think, you said? A little more expression, please, and don’t grunt quite so much, or Painted Jaguar may hear us.  When you’ve finished, I want to try that long dive which you say is so easy.  Won’t Painted Jaguar be surprised!”

And so Stickly-Prickly dived, and Slow-and-Solid dived alongside.

Kipling must surely have been a big Homer fan and most certainly The Beginning of the Armadillos was intended to be read aloud since, much like the wine dark seas and the rosy-fingered dawns of the Odyssey, Kipling’s repeated addictive and soothing references to the Turbid Amazon and the High and Far Off Times and the periodic addressing of the story to O Best Beloved build and weave an irresistible rhythm that lulls both parent and child to settle deeply into the gentle tale.

Is this a traditional fable retold or a story from Kipling’s imagination?  I do not know.  It’s a good one though.  I hope your mother read it to you and if she didn’t, I hope you will read it to someone yourself.

See you tomorrow for Letter S,


*quotes from Kipling, Rudyard, and Lorinda Bryan Cauley. The Beginning of the Armadillos. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985. Print.


The Letter Q (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 21, 2015

The Queen’s Gold, by Norma Youngberg

I think I’ve mentioned before that as a child my reading list was restricted to animal stories and the books of Seventh-day Adventist authors.  I always went home from camp meeting with armloads of books from the sale bin and I have to say that most of those were pretty horrible – preachy collections of stories that clumsily hammered heavy moral lessons out of coincidental events, adventure books that seemed promising but then introduced plot lines that fizzled and disappeared, pointless tales told in the syrupy, didactic tone of an out of touch older person talking down to a kindergarten classroom, memoirs of obscure church workers I had never heard of.*

On the shelves, though, for full price and NEVER on sale were the classic missionary stories of beloved SDA writers such Josephine Cunnington Edwards, Arthur S. Maxwell, Eric B. Hare, Miriam Wood, June Strong, and Norma Youngberg.

My copy of Norma Youngberg’s The Queen’s Gold was an old well-read gold-coloured cloth bound book with an ink drawing of a boy paddling a canoe on the cover.  Inside was the riveting story of an English boy, Steven, who survives a pirate attack in the waters of Borneo, then is taken in by a local tribe of Dyak headhunters and adopted by Chief-elect Rasak and his wife Siti.*** Eventually, of course, the pirates come back to get him and here it becomes very exciting.  I could not get enough of this book, and upon re-reading it this morning I can see why.  No preachiness, no sanctimony, actually no Christian or religious theme of any kind.  Just a rollicking good adventure story and most excellently written.  It is still in print today, available on Amazon, and I recommend it. You could hand it to any pre-teen who loves to read and they would thank you.

There are two more SDA classics that I read to bits: Josephine Cunnington Edwards’ Swift Arrow and Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Secret of the Cave.  Both of these writers have many books that hold a special place in the hearts of people who grew up in the SDA church, but these volumes are the two that I loved the best.  My copy of Swift Arrow is now nothing more than chunks of pages carefully stored between detached paper covers, creased and folded, the cover art flaking away in white patches, bits of dried yellow glue falling out whenever I pick it up. Being cloth bound The Secret of the Cave has fared better, the blue and white drawings of the two handsome brothers in the pompadours and striped shirts of the era still fresh on the inside cover. Both of these books, like The Queen’s Gold, are exciting adventure stories, rich in local and historical colour, told simply and well and with no moralizing attached.  If you have a young reader on your gifting list you couldn’t go wrong with these.

See you tomorrow for Letter R,


*and now I suspect not many other people had heard of them either.  Of course at the time I thought that anyone meriting a book must be a Very Important Person indeed so these books, dull and boring and cringingly awfully written, were puzzling to me. They mostly involved fond reminiscences of mild scrapes gotten into at boarding academy, an early marriage, the raising of three or four children while the husband went to college and the wife did laundry including cloth diapers by hand in a crummy house with no food in the kitchen cupboards, a boring recitation of the various church posts they held over the next forty years and then a kind of coda chapter which described them spending their twilight years managing a mobile home park in the desert and being visited by their grandchildren.  Hardly thrilling stuff.  Of course, these books were in the sale bin, and at camp meeting – just as everywhere else in this life – you get what you pay for.

**Even though it was written in the 1950s it could be read aloud today in any company without giving offense.  Well, the pirate king is once referred to as a ‘hulking savage,’ but as he and his men had been rampaging up and down the river murdering people by the hundreds and in this scene he is actually towering over Steven with the express intent of tearing him to pieces the argument could be made that this was justified. Possibly this term has been expunged from the current edition, though; I haven’t checked.

***When the voice thing on the iPhone first came out I ran excitedly for my copy of The Queen’s Gold  because I was sure I remembered that Rasak’s wife’s name was Siri.  I was so disappointed to find that I was wrong, but now I’m glad, because Siti was quite nice and in my opinion Siri is a real bitch.

The Letter P (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 17, 2015

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I discovered Jane Austen by accident and held onto her out of desperation.

Within a period of twenty-six months during the late eighties I went from cocky brand new college graduate who knew more than anyone to snotty grad student surely about to rack up unprecedented academic honors to grad school dropout to minimum wage office gopher to new bride (one bright spot at least!) to different office gopher (just while my husband was in law school – then I’d go back to grad school*) to (Ack! Surprise!) new mom.  It reminded me of the time I had travelled from St. Petersburg, Russia (at that time Leningrad) to New England to California to far Northwestern Alaska (above the arctic circle) in the space of six days**  Both experiences left me dizzy and disoriented and, when looking at my watch, not entirely sure if it was 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

During the long days alone in a small apartment with Little Miss Sunshine,*** who I was slightly afraid of because I actually had never so much as held a baby before she was born, I discovered the delightful fact that as long as I would hold her in my arms she would sleep peacefully for hours.  I’m sure I’m not the first new mom who has perfected the art of gliding smoothly around the house cuddling the baby closely and securely with one’s right arm and upper left arm while using one’s left forearm to reach for things.  One day my left hand reached out, t-rex-like, and grabbed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and carried it over to the couch and Little Miss Sunshine and I sat down together – I to read and she to sleep – and that was the end of my getting anything else done for awhile.****

All six of Jane Austen’s books (second hand paperbacks, of course) were sitting unread in the living room bookcase.  I had acquired them months before during a weekend spree at Smith’s Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon and had brought them home and given them pride of place on a shelf right at eye level but had not yet taken any of them out to read.  I knew they were classics. Very intelligent and articulate friends of mine – English majors – raved about them.  The trouble was, I was slightly afraid I wouldn’t like them and that this would reflect badly on me.

Of course I needn’t have worried. Where I had gotten the idea that the books would be dry and hard to follow is beyond me. Everyone knows (at least everyone reading this knows) how engaging and insightful and appealing and timeless and generally wonderful the Austen books are so I won’t go into that here.  Instead, as I do increasingly, I’ll use Jane as a springboard to another and only tenuously related topic.

Jane Austen, who lived at home all her life and wrote her books in the parlor, is known to have covered up her work whenever anyone came into the room.  I find this so endearing of her to have done.  I understand it so well.  When I am writing anything – and I mean anything from my novel I’m supposedly working on to a blog entry to a nasty letter (a guilty hobby of mine) to a fb messenger conversation with one of the kids – and anyone happens to stroll into the room, I simply can’t continue.  If the Patient Man comes in and stands behind my chair and makes as if to look at the screen I have to close the screen. Goodness only knows what he must think I’ve been looking at.  But if Jane Austen didn’t want her own family catching a glimpse of such as Pride and Prejudice before she was ready to show it, how much more should I feel the need to shelter my poor scribbles?

Another really interesting thing I recently learned about Jane Austen was that, lacking google docs or wordperfect or even a typewriter and a bottle of white out, she made extensive revisions to her handwritten manuscripts by writing the new material on little pieces of paper and pinning them into the original with straight pins. I found this out by following a link an English teacher friend posted on facebook one time.  It was similar to this link which I found just now through google.

Isn’t that interesting?  This is what I miss about facebook.  I had so many friends there whom I don’t have access to in real life, and some of them put up really interesting things almost daily and I picked up so much esoterica by clicking on those links.  I miss that a lot.

I think I might have to go back.

Actually, I feel that I really owe it everyone involved to go back.

It’s not like I was providing educational or improving links that others were relying on.  No, I was mostly just doing the same thing I’m doing here, yakking on and on, arranging small words in such a way that I come out looking clever and funny and interesting without actually saying all that much. The real reason is that I’ve just switched over to posting everything on Instagram and ‘accidentally’ pressing ‘share on facebook’, which even I can’t pretend isn’t really just using facebook.  And if I’m going to do that, and with graduation and birthday and recital and vacation season coming up you can bet I’m going to continue doing that, it’s very rude of me to turn my face away while backhandedly slipping my own pictures right out there where everyone else has to look at them.  This is a behavior analogous to gathering up your winnings and leaving the game while you’re ahead (I infer this from fiction, as I don’t know how to play cards) or (this one is from my experience) to requesting that your own child play first on the program and then getting up and walking out of the recital without staying to listen to everyone else’s kids.

But as long as we were speaking of Jane Austen, let’s think about it.  Would not she herself have simply adored Facebook? What a rich addition to plot and characters.  What a goldmine of gossip dressed as photo captions and passive aggressive treachery lurking in perky comments followed by smiling emoji!  And how the characters could have revealed themselves through their facebook activity!

  • Mary Bennet would post links to reviews of learned books she hadn’t read.
  • Lydia and Kitty would giggle together and goad each other into inappropriately friend requesting young officers, and repeatedly infest their computer with viruses picked up from celebrity gossip pages.
  • Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst would take delight in posting unflattering pictures of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and then commenting on what perfect likenesses they were.
  • Mrs. Bennet would spend hours minutely analyzing the pages of all her women friends and then shredding their characters based on her findings, to Mr. Bennet, who would pretend not to listen.
  • Mr. Bennet wouldn’t have a facebook and would sneer at anyone who did.
  • Jane Bennet would move systematically and judiciously through her newsfeed each morning bestowing likes and comments equally on friend and foe.
  • And Elizabeth Bennet?  How I would love to know how Jane Austen would deal with Elizabeth’s facebook involvement. I have an idea she would have made her one of those people who will set up a page and then never use it because they aren’t actually all that interested in such trivia. If Elizabeth had had a page she would most certainly have deactivated it during the time Mr. Darcy was ignoring her.

Whatever your opinion of my speculations expressed above, I think we can all agree that facebook society is as rich in plot and drama as any Regency Period English village ever was. There’s just so much there! I ask myself, “What Would Jane Do?”

And I answer myself…

See you tomorrow for Letter Q, and quite possibly see you soon on facebook,


 *Nope.  Didn’t.  Too lazy.

**Look at a globe and count up how many time zones that trip covered.  I’ve never bothered to do so but I know it was several. I was a wreck all summer, and living in constant daylight above the arctic circle didn’t help.

***Little Miss Sunshine is herself all set to graduate from law school next month.

****I think I mentioned before that I can’t seem to get as much done as other people do.  One reason may be that I will always immediately drop anything to read a book.  This is not a virtue and I’m not presenting it as one.  When I told my mom that I had discovered a wonderful new author and was taking advantage of Little Miss Sunshine’s nap times to read (which I thought of as necessary refreshment for the frazzled spirit) she was horrified.  “I should think that you’d want to use the baby’s naptime to catch up on your housework,” she said reprovingly.  I don’t think she actually thought anything of the kind; she had known me quite well for twenty-four years and during all that time I’m pretty sure I never once willingly put down a book in order to do anything useful.

The Letter O (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 17, 2015

I’m going out on a limb here (har har – you’ll get it in a minute) and choosing for the Letter O my favourite character from A.A. Milne’s The World of Pooh and The World of Christopher Robin, and that would be Owl.  Poor Owl, loving the big words but generally misusing or misspelling them, or when he happens to use them correctly his friends think he’s sneezing.  Living in his tree house with his books and his paper and pen, painstakingly writing speeches which he is never allowed to finish, unfailingly gracious and generous with using his literary skills to decipher letters for his little friends, always available to provide the ink-spattered and originally spelt signage necessary for their adventures, sagely dispensing wisdom and carefully considered advice to all the creatures of the Hundred Acre Wood.

And in another attenuated and awkward* leap here I am going to post a link to something which made me suddenly and thoughtlessly laugh out loud in a very percussive manner in the middle of the night, badly startling the Patient Man.  It is in honor of Owl.

I hope you enjoyed that and I hope it more than makes up for the very thoughtful analysis I was planning on Homer’s Odyssey.

Wait for Letter P, though.  It’s gonna be a good one!

Working hard to catch up, thank you for reading!


*My my, I seem to be quite into alliteration today, do I not?  Or is still alliteration when the words start with vowels?  

The Letter N: (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

Placeholder for Letter N.

If you are reading this from the Home Page / Archives, please scroll down to Letter J, where you will find something that is actually interesting.

The Letter M: (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

Placeholder for Letter M.

If you are reading this from the Home Page / Archives, please scroll down to Letter J, where you will find something that is actually interesting.

The Letter L: (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

Placeholder for Letter L.

If you are reading this from the Home Page / Archives, please scroll down to Letter J, where you will find something that is actually interesting.

The Letter K (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

Placeholder for Letter K.

If you are reading this from the Home Page / Archives, please scroll down to Letter J, where you will find something that is actually interesting.

The Letter J (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

J is for The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.

J is also for Uncle Junior, who way back around Letter E supplied me not only with a suggestion for the Letter J but also a short description which he hoped would entice me into reading it:

Please PLEASE make the letter J be Julian Jaynes. (How can you go wrong with TWO J’s?). He wrote the BEST EVER serious book. “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. It is way over the top my favorite book of all time. He was a Yale Psychology Professor who, in the 1970s, wrote a startling theory about how and when humans became ‘conscious’ and what that means. And, interestingly enough, it is very readable.

He even has a chapter on people like Ellen White with extraordinary consciousness.


When I received this email I thanked Uncle Junior (who is my youngest brother, fifteen years my senior) and explained that I was only using books that either I have read and internalized enough to have formed some sort of opinion on or at least have a personal story of some kind attached to them. Besides, although he claims that the book is very readable, one has to understand that Uncle Junior has about seventy-five IQ points on me.  No, better make that fifty points. I’m no slouch. But he is particularly brilliant.

But then right after Letter H two situations converged: I had a packed weekend and my brain got very, very tired.  As I said, I’m no slouch, but I have been constantly at the beck and call of up to four children for the past twenty-seven years and I am afraid that this has taken its toll on my mental stamina.  Please don’t get your back up, I’m not saying that raising children is a lowly occupation or that that it chips away at your intelligence.*  Many women can do it all: raise well-rounded, high-achieving kids, have a brilliant career, keep a gorgeous home, have personal hobbies.  I myself had to pick one and I picked the kids.  They seem to be turning out alright so at least there’s that.  But, and this is a big but, I am afraid that my brain may have atrophied a little in the process.**

Now the kids are mostly grown and I’m facing some unpleasant truths.  For instance, I used to be a champion multi-tasker and I thought at the time that this was because I was clever and capable.  Alas, it turns out it was only because I was constantly being interrupted and handed multiple tasks to do.  Left to myself now I will start a task and keep working on it slowly, waiting for someone to stop me and give me another one, and when this doesn’t happen I just keep plugging away, ever more slowly,  without really knowing how to stop or how to decide to go on to something else.***

I’ve been finding this a little disturbing.  So over the past few days I cheerfully accepted all the activities and tasks that were handed to me, but unfortunately no one said, “Oh, hadn’t you better also get to that A-to-Z Challenge project of yours?”

Which meant that I didn’t.

And so it’s Uncle Junior to the rescue!  I here append the disclaimer that not only have I never read The Origin of Whatever in the Bi-something-or-another Mind, I have never even heard of it.  I would go ahead and read it this evening**** but I’m afraid I have to work on Letter P for tomorrow (right?) and any spare thinking time has to go into filling in the place holders for Letters K, L, M, N and O.*****

I do hope you enjoy it.  Please someone let me know if you think I’d like it too.

See you tomorrow for Letter ?


*But in fact I’m pretty sure that it does chip away at your intelligence, but only in the nicest possible way.

**Again.  I’m not offending YOU!  This is about ME!

***Did you see Pleasantville?  I’m the soda jerk polishing a hole in the counter because the assistant never showed up.

****I have to warn you that Uncle Junior, who insists upon having a very optimistic opinion of my intellectual abilities, sometimes thinks things are much more understandable than they really are.  I confess that although I do enjoy nearly everything he recommends, sometimes I grasp only a tiny bit of what the writer is actually trying to say as I’m mostly enjoying the rhythm of the sentences and the interesting and unusual vocabulary and the illusion that I am a very smart person indeed to be reading this really smart book.

*****Hopefully they won’t stand for Kill me now, Let’s just get this over with, M is for obsolete Mommy who can’t write, Never again, and Oh that’s it I quit.

The Letter I (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 16, 2015

Today, the Letter I stands for “I am Sorry.”

Believe me, I’m no busier than anyone else and less busy than many, but the last few days seemed a bit of a whirlwind with concerts, games, concerts, other stuff…

I’m going to post placeholders for the J, K, L, M and N and proceed today to Letter O.  I can’t just skip the others or post them later because I feel that they must be in order.

My stats page tells me that amazingly people have still been reading!

Thank you.

See you later today for Letter O.


P.S.  Letter J has been posted – you may now proceed to Letter J.