Friday, February 28, 2014

Fiction Friday: February 28, 2014: J.A. Jance

Just over a year ago, Madame L wrote on her own blog about some poems by writer J.A. Jance collected in "After the Fire."

Here's an excerpt from another of those poems, "Bitter Fruit":
It is a slow awakening,
This knowledge that your life
Is a compromise
               Of other people's
Intentions of what shall be done
With your flesh and bones.

Yes, and mind, too, although
No one ever intimated that you
Might be possessed
               Of one of those....

Madame L's fellow reader/writer/commentator Laura wrote in response a comment about J.A. Jance's series about a woman sheriff in the area of Sierra Vista, Arizona (a remarkable town in a beautiful part of the country).

From the official Web site of the city of Sierra Vista, AZ (
Then, another friend and relative mentioned to Madame L some others of J.A. Jance's books, and Madame L has now read some of these, including:

"Edge of Evil" (a beautiful L.A. news anchor is fired because, at 40, she's "too old," and goes home to Sedona, Arizona, where she has to deal with the murder of her best friend from high school);

"Web of Evil" (that same woman, Alison or "Ali" Reynolds, goes back to L.A. to sign the divorce papers so her husband, who also thought she was too old for him any more, can marry his bimbo --- but her husband is killed, and she's the only one who can solve the case);

"Devil's Claw" (Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County has to solve a murder, save a young Indian girl, and prevent more deaths); and

"Improbable Cause" (Seattle Homicide Detective J.P. Beamont figures out who murdered a dentist in his own office chair).

And Madame L highly recommends all the ones she has read. All of them have intriguing and admirable, yet still believable, heroes; and intricate and fascinating plots.

Madame L isn't going to read all the ones that J.A. Jance has written: Life is short, and all that. But if you find any one of Ms. Jance's books, say, at a used bookstore or library sale, by all means pick it up. Madame L is pretty sure you'll enjoy it.

Happy Reading,

Madame L

Monday, February 24, 2014

Groundhog Day and the Torah?

I'm sorry to hear that Harold Ramis, a brilliant writer, has died. Everyone knows him best from "Ghostbusters," which he wrote and had a starring role in.

What I didn't know until I read his many obituaries today was that he also wrote "Groundhog Day," one of my favorite movies of all time. Another thing I didn't know was that "Groundhog Day" has been compared to the Torah. Ramis said in an interview,  “One reason Jews respond to the idea is that the Torah is read every year — you start at the same place on the same day. The Torah doesn’t change, but every year we read it we are different. Our lives have changed … and you find new meaning in it as we change....I’m not comparing ‘Groundhog Day’ to the Torah ... but there’s something in it that allows people every time they see it to reconsider where they are in life and question their own habitual behaviors.”

Here's part of that interview. Ramis said Christians, Buddhists, psychoanalysts, and lots of other groups told him the movie was a metaphor for whatever they believe and do, too.

But what I always thought it was just a metaphor for life, which is why I watch it every February and hope that when I wake up the next day, I'll be able to start fresh and make some progress.

Rest in peace, Harold Ramis, and thanks for your movies and your life.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More on Motivation for Training

I've just added a short post to my Training blog about motivation, along with some new "Sayings of Derek."

Sometimes I think---I mean, I should say, I'm pretty positive---that with these long-term training goals and short-term daily goals and intermediate events I've signed up for, I've bitten off more than I can chew.

But then I remember this quote from Henry Ford ***(which I originally heard from Derek):

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”

So, I'm imitating the Little Engine That Could: "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

You can find the whole text of this great story online.

Don't you think it's great that this little engine is a girl engine?

On my good days this turns into, "I know I can, I know I can, I know I can."

***If you follow this link, you can find more great quotes from Henry Ford. 

I'll be writing more about motivation as I keep working on this goal. I hope you'll check out my training blog and share comments, suggestions, and your own experiences.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Share This With All the Schools, Please

My amazing D-I-L shared this story with me.  Please take a few minutes to read it.

It's about "the new way we do long division" plus a whole lot more.

It's about the sacred trust of teaching children and how to "shape little hearts" to become contributors to the larger community.

It reminds me of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Webster (yes, I had teachers with those names), who taught me at Buena Vista Elementary School, and many other teachers who cared about me as more than a little kid who needed to learn to do long division or whatever.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Star Trek Personality Quiz

Take the test and see which of the original Star Trek crew you are most like.  (Thanks to Emily for sharing this on Facebook.)

I am Kirk! I like the part about being "likely to talk an adversary to death." But most of all I like the part about being a "worthy warrior."

But I'm going to take the test in a week or so, at which time I'm pretty sure I'll turn out to be someone else (As with the dialect test, remember that?).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Start With Why

Here's another TED talk. What I like about this one, and why I'm posting it here on a Sunday, is that Simon Sinek talks a little bit about faith, without using that word.

He says people buy a product or buy into a dream because of the WHY. And then he says, "What  you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe."

He says that a couple of times. And that's what faith is all about, isn't it.

That's why Saint James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:20-24).

And Saint Paul agreed with him, even though some Christians don't recognize that fact.

Anyway, here's the talk about why, if we start with WHY we believe in something, we'll be more successful than if we have everything else already in place.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Derek Gadget

In response to Jeff's question, "Where's the Derek Gadget?" --- It's up now. Sorry you didn't see it when you first checked out that page.

Just go to my Huntsman 140 Training blog and look at the column on the right-hand side. It will stay there even when I add new blog posts.

Speaking of adding new blog posts, I've written one about an experience I had in the steam room at the gym this morning. Anyone who is reading this, please check it out and let me know what YOU would have done, and what you think I might have done better.

(If you go there and it's not up yet, please check back later, because I don't know when I'll actually get that posted.)

Fiction Friday: February 14, 2014: The Bricklayer

Just read the opening sentence of this novel, and tell Madame L what you think.

"As Mickey Stillson stared at the gun in his hand, he absentmindedly reached up and adjusted the fake ear that was his entire disguise and wondered how a born-again Christian like himself had wound up in the middle of a bank robbery."

Gotcha, right? And, by the way, what movie did this remind you of? Was it "Raising Arizona"? Yes?

But Mickey Stillson's appearance in that opening scene doesn't lead to cute shenanigans such as baby-napping you might expect. In fact, the rest of the book is more like one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels. And Lee Child is quoted on the cover of the mass paperback edition of "The Bricklayer" as saying the book is "A REAL WINNER!"

Madame L immediately assumed that the publishers picked that quote from a sentence by Mr. Child like this: "I'd love to call this book a real winner, but it's actually a piece of crap." Madame L can't help herself. She's just naturally cynical about book-cover blurbs.

But Madame L actually enjoyed the book. It was like a simple-minded comic book, without the graphics, and lots of fun to read. In fact, while Madame L wouldn't call it a great book, she hated to put it down long enough to take care of her everyday tasks. So Madame L recommends the book as much as Lee Child, James Patterson ("Terrific!"), Patricia Cornwell ("Dazzling!"), and the Associated Press ("Sensational!") apparently actually do.

You can buy the book at or get it used from your local used bookstore, as Madame L did, for $3.50, and it was worth every penny.  (Madame L found it while she was attending a poetry reading which was so painful that she consoled herself by reading this book.)

(Madame L apologizes for using so many parentheses in this review and promises to cut back on this vice in the future, even though it makes her giggle, which she needs to do more often.)

The author is (according to Publishers Weekly) a former FBI agent, so you get the feeling the details are authentic, even though (also according to Publishers Weekly) the details aren't all that authentic. (How would we know if they're not? No way of telling, unless whoever wrote the Publishers Weekly review is also a former FBI agent.) The author's name, Noah Boyd, is a pseudonym (also according to Publishers Weekly).

Oh, wait, Dear Readers of Madame L and Aunt Louise's blogs, you say you want to know the plot? Okay, here it is, and don't complain if it sounds a lot like a Jack Reacher plot: Former FBI agent Steve Vail, "former" because he's such a rebel against authority figures and the FBI bureaucracy, catches Mickey Stillson and his fellow bank robber we met in that opening scene.  So the FBI taps him to come back temporarily to help solve an even worse crime, which evolves into a series of abductions, killings, grand larceny, auto theft, extortion, and in fact, you name it, the bad guys do it.

But Steve Vail catches them, one by one, and it's a good thing the FBI has called him to help, because everyone else in the FBI is incompetent and/or stupid...everyone, that is, except the beautiful agent who risks her job (and her life) to support him because, well, she believes in him, and, also, not coincidentally, he is a hunk. (And artistic. He supports himself, since being fired from the FBI for insubordination, by working as a bricklayer; and in the evenings, to pass the time, he makes incredibly beautiful statues, because, even though he's handy with a gun and has no hesitation about killing bad guys, he's really just an artist at heart.)

But they don't have sex until after the last page: That is, they finally get around to her starting to take her clothes off on that last page. Very tasteful. Except for the supposedly humorous and innuendo-filled banter between Steve Vail and the beautiful Kate (why are all beautiful cops and FBI agents named Kate?), which is not only not tasteful but downright stupid and off putting except when it's unintentionally hilarious.

(And, by the way, Happy Valentine's Day!)

Oh, heck, if  you see it in your local used bookstore for the great price of $3.50 or so (and you have nothing better to do with your time) you might enjoy it as much as Madame L did.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My 2014 Huntsman 140 Training Blog

Following Ellen's excellent example, I've started a blog where I'll keep track of my training for this year's Huntsman 140: Training -- 2014 Huntsman 140.

Already it's clear that I won't be updating that blog every day. But I intend to track some of the major steps I'm taking to prepare for this year's ride. And I've just added a "gadget" to the front page of the blog, with some of my favorite sayings from Derek, my trainer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, because every day he comes up with something new that makes me laugh---and then try harder.

What I really hope to do with that training blog is get more people to think about riding in this year's Huntsman 140, too. (Or, if you can't ride with us, donate to help us out!) 


"If you don't stick to your values when they're being tested,
they're not values:
they're hobbies."

---Jon Stewart

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Cricket Voices

When you think of crickets or grasshoppers, you may think they're not very beautiful, and you certainly may not appreciate their music.

But listen to this:

I see this came out more than 6 months ago. I just found it on one of my friends' Facebook page. Thanks, whoever posted it!

Monday, February 10, 2014

100 Books to Read

I just found this list on Laura's Facebook page of 100 books to read.

I've read a lot of them --- being a U.S. high-school student and then an English major in college means I *had* to read a lot of them --- and I note that "Moby Dick" is not on the list.

Thank you, list-makers! I was supposed to read that book at some point, and I did read a lot of it, but I couldn't plow my way through to the end. I love the running joke in the "Bone" comic series about "Moby Dick." (When Fone Bone reads excerpts of "Moby Dick," his favorite book,  to other characters, they fall asleep.)

I wonder what a graphic novel like "Bone" would have to do in order to be included in this list?

Another book on that list that I've never read, though I've tried, and I've gotten through about 5 pages, is "The Brothers Karamazov." I always think of the smartest girl in my high school, going for interview after interview for various scholarships, telling about her least favorite book:

"They asked me what I'd read lately, and I said 'The Brothers Karamazov,' and they said, 'Tell us a little about it,' and I said, 'Well, it's about these two brothers, or was it three, and one of them---' and they said, 'What are their names?' like they were just trying to help me remember so I could get on with the plot, and at that point my mind went even blanker, and I couldn't remember any names, and they acted all sympathetic and everything, but that's when I knew they thought I really hadn't read the book. But, I'm sorry, but, I just can't remember those names."

Anyway, if I were writing a list of 100 books that everyone should read, I would NOT include "The Phantom Toll Booth" or "Siddhartha." Also, not "The Scarlet Letter," which I read in high school and thought was stupid and depressing. I know, I was only 14 or 15 then, but why did they have us read such a book at that age? I didn't get it, and I'm not going to read it again to see if I can get it now.

What books would I include on my list? I think I *would* include "Bone," but I'm not sure.  I'll think about some others and get back to you....But what other books would you include?

Sochi Olympics, Camas Snow, and ... Training

Training---Oh yeah, that's constantly on my mind. More about that below. 

I told myself I wasn't going to watch the Olympics this winter: Lots of boring stuff, and the ridiculous medal count that the TV commentators do, plus, life goes on and I need to focus on important things.

But when I saw those "kids" doing slopestyle snowboarding, I was hooked. Check out this NY Times story, complete with videos, showing interviews with the Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris, as well as views of the course and the aerial acrobatics these athletes do.

The last time I went snowboarding I broke a rib, with consequences I'm still feeling. But now I've decided I'm going to do it again. After all, I learned to surf about three weeks ago. So I should be able to do a little better with snowboarding this time around.

Not in Camas, though. We've had four days of snow and ice and now freeze-rain, but nothing I would consider doing any sport-like activity in. In fact, when Jeff and I went for a walk yesterday, I was almost stabbed by icicles falling off the lamp-post outside our house, and then got iced on several more times as I walked under the trees.

 I know, I know, this is nothing like what people in other places are going through.

And it's beautiful.

And, as Garrison Keillor says, "Winter is only miserable if you're not properly dressed for it."


One of our neighbors thoughtfully decorated a tree in the front yard, and these ornaments were beautiful, covered with ice.

But Mother Nature still makes the best decorations, doesn't she.
In this photo you can see blobs of ice falling from the trees.

Meanwhile, as promised, more on training:

Check out Ellen's new blog on her personal training goals and accomplishments for this year's Huntsman 140, "Fun Journey of Happiness." Best title EVER for a blog on training. Thanks for sharing this, Ellen!

And inspiring and motivating for me. Maybe I'll also start a blog just about training. I'll have to think of a better name than how I usually think of it, like Training --- Travail, Trial and Tribulation, with blood-red background.

No, wait! That can be the blog's title! Or maybe so. I don't know. Still undecided.  Here it is, so far. I'll be adding to it soon, right after today's training session.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Team Sandra Growing --- And Accepting Donations

Yes, more and more people are going to be joining us for all or part of the 140-mile bike ride this year, to raise money for cancer research. Here's Laura's latest video, showing more of the whole team.

You know what would be great? --- For even MORE people to sign up, so Laura could make ANOTHER video!

Meanwhile, Neva has officially started Team Sandra on the Huntsman 140 Web site, and I've just now started my own donation page.

For Sandra: Hard Times Come Again No More

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Weighing Topaz with a Wallaby Bone

So, after many hours spent panning for topaz in the bays and inlets near our rented house on Flinders Island, the next job was to determine whether the stones we thought were topaz really were that, or "just" quartz.

The problem: Which of the many shiny stones we found in the sand and rubble were topaz, and which were quartz? 

Here's how Jeff and Dave did it: Using a wallaby shin-bone (probably one of the ones I found and brought home, to their initial dismay), they made a balance so they could weigh the stones we thought might be topaz.

If a stone about the same size as one from last year that we knew for sure was topaz was also the same weight, then the chances were good that it was also topaz.  If two stones were the same size, but one was topaz and one was quartz, they ought to have different weights. That's because of their different chemical compositions and specific gravities.

But how could you tell how much a stone weighed? You could put one stone on each side of the balance to see if they were the same or not, but how would you know its actual weight? That's why the little oblong pill is there (in the photo above, see it?). It's a 750 mg tablet of anti-nausea medicine, so its weight can be compared with that of each stone.

The chemical formula for topaz is Al2SiO4(F,OH)2, and its molecular weight is 182.25 gm.

The chemical formula for quartz is SiO2, and its molecular weight is 60.08 gm. So you can see that a piece of topaz the same size as a piece of quartz should weigh a lot more.

Another way of looking at this is comparing their specific gravity. You can check this by dropping it into a special oily solution (which we did not have with us on the island). Its density will determine whether it will float somewhere in the solution or fall directly to the bottom. The specific gravity of quartz is 2.65, and the specific gravity of topaz is 3.50. 

Here are two of the topaz stones from last year, one uncut, and the other cut.  Here's a great resource for  the specific gravity of a lot of minerals and a lot of other things, too.  

Another difference between the stones is their hardness; quartz has a Mohs scale hardness of 7, and topaz of 8. (For diamonds, of course, it's 10.)

Another difference between topaz and quartz is their light refraction. And here's a table comparing the refraction of various gems.

I'll write more about this, and the rest of our trip to Tasmania, soon.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Team Sandra

In honor of our oldest sister Sandra, who died two weeks ago today of liver cancer, all her five siblings will be riding in this year's Huntsman 140 as "Team Sandra."

My wonderful sisters and niece (from now on to be known as "The Aunts and Angela") even found the perfect bike for our brother Reo.

So, now, it's train, train, train, for all of us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Take Love. Really...

I just received word that I was a finalist, but not the winner, in the Willamette Writers' Six-Word Valentine's Day contest.

My almost-winning entry:

"Take love. Really, take it. Please."

If I want to see my little six-word gem (:) when the Willamette Writers tweet it out, sometime between today and Feb. 14, I'll have to remember what my Twitter account name and password are. Since I don't think I'll take the time and mental energy to do that, I'm just broadcasting it here.

Thank you. Thank you very much.