Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Love is Chemical (Lou Reed)

I just read that Lou Reed has died, and I'm so sad to hear it. Of course I didn't know him. But I have loved his music for years and years, ever since Lisa introduced me to it. And here's one of my favorite songs of his, "My Love is Chemical."

According to the New York Times obituary, Lou Reed once told a journalist, “I’ve always believed that there’s an amazing number of things you can do through a rock ‘n’ roll song, and that you can do serious writing in a rock song if you can somehow do it without losing the beat. The things I’ve written about wouldn’t be considered a big deal if they appeared in a book or movie.”

Remember "Sweet Jane" and "Walk on the Wild Side"? Then you'll agree with him. At least I do.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fiction Friday: October 25, 2013: Bertie Plays the Blues

Louise here, instead of Madame L, and in something of a hurry, so this will be quick:

Alexander McCall Smith has done it again, with "Bertie Plays the Blues," in which our old friends at 44 Scotland Street delight us with their quirky lives and philosophical ruminations about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

I'll never get tired of reading about Bertie, the poor little saxophone-playing kid with an overbearing and snobby mother and pathetically emasculated (he says so himself) father. Bertie's big adventure this time is putting himself up for adoption on e-Bay. And who can blame him for wanting to choose some different parents?

I love reading about Cyrus the dog, with his own unique philosophy of life, patiently waiting while his owner Angus Lordie spends time with his very opinionated but kind fiancee Domenica, who is having second thoughts about their marriage as an old flame returns to town. Their friend Olivia has stayed in Italy after her Stendahl syndrome attack (which, it turns out, is a real psychosomatic disorder), where she's living with some nuns and learning all about apiculture.

Matthew and Elspeth have had their triplets and have named them Rognvald (how do you pronounce that, anyway?), Tobermory, and Angus. And they've hired a Danish nanny, and Matthew has re-hired Pat to help in the art gallery. Pat helps Lou meet an Elvis impersonator on a first date and while there runs into Bruce, the epitome of narcissism.

And so on. I haven't even finished the book yet, but I'm so delighted with it I couldn't wait to recommend it to all my (and Madame L's) readers. I found it at Costco for less than 2/3 the cover price, and it's available at for just over 2/3 the cover price. And of course you can check it out for free from your local library. Do it. Enjoy!

And I'll write more about some ideas about poetry from the book.


Coolest song ever? Maybe so:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Beggar's Petition

What do you do when someone asks you for money?  Our family policy, since our daughters taught us this great lesson about 30 years ago, has been to give the beggar some money and some food.

Lately we've added a little to that:  Inspired by a visit from our bishop and a member of the priests' quorum earlier this month, in which the bishop invited us to come up with our own family mission plan, we decided to make little packets to give to people who ask for money. So, for Family Home Evening one Monday night, we put a dollar bill, a granola bar or energy bar, and a pass-along card in plastic sandwich zip-lock bags. We made a total of four of these packets.

This morning I stopped at the Safeway on my way home from the dentist (Ouch!), desperately in need of some comfort food. An old man stood near the door. He walked up to me and showed me some coins in his hand and said, "Do you have a quarter? I'm trying to get enough money to take the bus to Share House." (Share House is a soup kitchen for homeless people in our county.)  

I had seen him accosting another person as I was parking, so I'd brought one of our little packets with me. I gave it to him and fished around in my wallet for a quarter and said, "Yes, I have a quarter, and I have a dollar, and some other things for you here." 

He looked at the pass-along card and smiled slyly and said, "Ah, you have some reading material for me." 

I nodded and said, "Is there anything else I can do for you?" 

He looked surprised and said, "No, I just want to go get some food at Share House." 

I walked into the store. When I glanced back, I saw that he had discarded the plastic sandwich bag and pass-along card and energy bar and pocketed the dollar bill, and was now walking right up to cars that were parking in the parking lot, asking the drivers for money before they even got all the way out of their cars.
Mormon 8:39: Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? 

2 Nephi 20:1-2: Wo unto them that ... turn away the needy from judgment,and ... take away the right from the poor of my people, and ... rob the fatherless. 
As I was standing in line to pay for my comfort food, the man in front of me told the checkout clerk, "By the way, you should do something about that drunk guy who's accosting your customers in front of your store." The clerk nodded and called one of the store managers to go shoo the man away. 

I said, "He didn't seem drunk to me. He seemed harmless."

The clerk said, "Oh, no, honey. He's drunk. And he's been here since we opened this morning, bothering our customers and stealing from us. As a matter of fact, booze is what he's been stealing."

I was chastened. But I'm still going to respond with love to those people who put up their petition to me. 

I'm still going to hope that one of them at some time will read the pass-along card and call the missionaries and find out how to turn his life around. 

I'm still going to pay fast offerings and give donations to other charities engaged in helping the poor. 

I'm still going to volunteer at Share House, and I know that most of those people are not drunk, are not stealing booze from grocery stores, and in fact are in the same place where I could be if I didn't have health insurance and all those material blessings I usually take for granted.

And I'm still going to hope that I can do something more for those people who ask for help, and still going to try to remember to ask them what more I can do for them. Not because I think I'm any better and not to earn brownie points in heaven....

...but, because, as King Benjamin said:

Mosiah 4: 16-19:... you will administer of your substance unto him that stands in need; and you will not suffer that the beggar puts up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish. Perhaps you will say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever does this the same has great cause to repent; ... For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?"
And now I'm thinking of how to "administer of [my other kinds of substance] unto him that stand in need," substance such as a kind word, a smile and a wave, a few minutes of time to talk and listen.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fiction Friday: October 18, 2013: The Trouble With Poetry

Madame L here, again, with some more notes about poetry. Madame L is well aware that many people think of poetry as being confessional or at least autobiographical, think that the voice of a persona in a poem is the voice of the poet, and think, therefore, that everything a poet writes must be "true."

In fact, though, a lot of poetry tells stories, and the stories are not necessarily true: in fact, they are fiction, which is why Madame L is discussing them on Fiction Friday. (Think, for example, of Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess," or "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister," in which the speakers are clearly not the poet.)

One of Madame L's favorite short-story writers, Sherman Alexie, as she recently discovered, is also a poet, and he knows that poets aren't always telling the truth, as he writes in his poem "Open Books":

...I am
reminded of R, the poet's son,
who smiled when I told him
how much I loved his daddy's poems

especially the epic one about love and the canyon
     and the sunset, all of it
coming together as he held the hands of his wife and son
     as they all stood at the edge
of their lives, a mile above the river flowing, no, raging
     between red rock walls.

Ha, said the poet's son. I remember
my mother and I sat in the car
and watched my father pace 
back and forth outside the ranger's station
at the canyon. Hell, we never
even got close to the actual

canyon. My father was all pissed off
because my mom hated the outdoors.
He gave us both the silent treatment
when we drove back to the motel.

So, Sherman Alexie goes on to write,

Please, please, please, let us now celebrate
poets and liars, liars and poets
for we are both of these things....

Let us now celebrate what may or may not be true.
Let us now celebrate the lies
that should be true because they tell us so much.
Let us now celebrate apocrypha.

Maybe even the incident of Sherman Alexie talking to the poet's son is a story. Who knows? And if we asked Sherman Alexie, would he tell us the truth about that?

Of course, as Madame L has already noted, poets love to write about the trouble with poetry, and one of her favorite contemporary poets, Billy Collins, has written a poem, and a book titled, "The Trouble With Poetry."

Madame L recently met in a workshop another contemporary poet, who wrote in his own poem, "The Trouble With Poetry," that the trouble he has had with poetry was that it doesn't even help him get laid.

Does that attitude even make sense? Are we horrified to learn that when he was in college, this young man was outraged that poetry wouldn't get him a girl? Could it be that he was telling a story?

Madame L thinks so, obviously, and thinks that even if the poet is just telling a story, about getting laid or about enjoying the Grand Canyon with his wife and son, or about all the Indian and white girls he knew in high school, there is still some "truth" to these stories that we can figure out, if we care to.

And that's the real trouble with poetry, isn't it: Sometimes we don't want to figure out what the poem or the story is telling us. And sometimes we figure it out in spite of ourselves, and we jump back, burned. But Madame L hopes we're not like the cat mentioned by Mark Twain*, which, once having jumped onto a hot stove and been burned, never jumps on a stove again, even one that isn't hot. Let's keep reading, and writing, poetry (and short stories and novels). Again, as Alexie writes:

Let us now celebrate the lies
that should be true because they tell us so much.
*The actual quote: “A cat who sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. But he won’t sit on a cold stove, either.” 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fiction Friday: October 11, 2013: Where My Wellies Take Me

Madame L cannot imagine a more lovely and charming way to introduce children to poetry than this book, by Clare and Michael Morpurgo.

The Morpurgos set up a charity, Farms for Children, which has given more than 100,000 children the chance to live for a week on a farm in various rural areas in Great Britain.

The book is in the form of a little girl's (Pippa) journal as she walks through the countryside in her wellies. Her hand-written entries are illustrated with drawings and poems.

Here's one of the poems which Madame L feels okay about copying because it's found in so many places, not just in this book, "Hurt No Living Thing," by Christina Rossetti:

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

That's how beautiful the whole book is. Madame L found "Where My Wellies Take Me" on the "New Books" shelf of her local library but will be buying copies for various loved children of her acquaintance. From the introduction: "Every copy of the book that is sold will help support more children to come down to our farms." 

According to, "Michael Morpurgo is one of Britain's best-loved children's book writers. He has written more than 100 books and has won the Smarties Prize, the Whitbread Award, and most recently the Blue Peter Book Award for PRIVATE PEACEFUL. He is also the author of WAR HORSE, which has been made into a Tony Award-winning Broadway play and a Golden Globe-nominated film. Michael was Writer in Residence at The Savoy Hotel from January to March 2007, and previously he was Children's Laureate from 2003-2005, a role that took him across Britain to inspire a love of reading in children."

According to the introduction to "Where My Wellies Take Me," written by Michael, "Clare is in her seventieth year now and I'm catching up fast..."

Madame L is grateful to these two writers and nature lovers and so glad she has a public library where she can chance upon treasures like this one.

Dear Readers, Enjoy! And share with a child or two or three or....

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Year on Mars

Tell you what: If I could do this, I'd apply in a flash.

I was one of the lucky ones who got to spend a month at the Mars Society's Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station, almost nine years ago, and the experience changed my life, my view of my abilities and myself as a person, and the direction my life took after that. 

(For the story of the "lost" expedition)
I'd started at the Mars Desert Research Station in 2004, working with biologists and geologists, a biochemist and inventor, engineers, a journalist on assignment for his Japanese newspaper, and a physicist. We explored the Mars-like landscape of the Utah desert in the winter, simulating a real Mars mission. All this helped us form lasting friendships gave me the experience I needed to be considered for the FMARS project.  

After FMARS, I was assigned to command a crew at the MDRS, which gave me even greater experiences and led to more friendships with like-minded scientists and engineers, some of whom have gone on to careers in science and engineering, including working for NASA and being an Air Force pilot.

Now the Mars Society is sending six-member crews for a full year of research work and fun at the station, located on the edge of the Haughton Crater on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic.

See what I mean about fun? (Photos by Joan Roch)
Okay, not so fun, walking back to the Hab...
We had just dumped about 2 liters of water from my boots. They
were helping me get my "spacesuit" off because I couldn't do it myself.
Even if I never see any of these people again, we are friends for life.
From the announcement:

"The Mars Society is seeking six volunteers to participate as members of the crew of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) during an extended simulation of human Mars exploration operations on Devon Island in northern Canada (August 2014 through July 2015).

"As currently planned, the crew will consist of four individuals chosen primarily for their skills as field scientists in areas including geology, geochemistry, microbiology, biochemistry and paleontology. Two additional crew members will be chosen primarily for their skills in engineering areas. The ability of crew members to support both roles is considered a strong plus."

Okay, so, let's say you're not ready now but you want to do this in the future. Apply for the MDRS and get some experience there. Keep learning and improving your skills, do research wherever and whenever you can, and go for it!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Changing the World

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; 
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.    
Margaret Mead

Fiction Friday: October 4, 2013: Jack the Giant Killer

Madame L has read this Charles de Lint adaptation of the classic fairy tale TWICE now and is going to read it again because it's so clever and funny and true to the form and just downright brilliant.

Sorry for the pixellated and Amazon-"Look-Insided" image.
Brilliant Part 1: "Jack" is "Jacky," a girl; and all "Jacks" are kind of Pucks or fairy-tale tricksters who with a few protective charms and loyal friends --- and more than the usual luck --- manage to do what no one else can do: in this case, kill not one but two giants, save the Faerie, and live happily ever after.

It's part of a series in which several well-known fantasy writers have made novels from fairy tales.

After Madame L is reads some of the others, too, she'll let you know if they're as good.

Madame L found this book by accident at her local library (where she was looking for more poetry), but you can buy it from However you can, get it and read it! You'll love it! That's Madame L's promise to you. And if she's wrong, then she's very sorry, but that's all.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Day 3 of Gov't. Shutdown: Pacific Crest Trail

We haven't hiked up this trail for years. Today we hiked about 3.5 miles to get to Gillette Lake and then back again. We drove to the trail head (on SR 14 at the Bridge of the Gods) straight from my eye appointment which left my pupils dilated. That's my excuse (this time) for any problems with these photos.

Beginning of the Trail
 Seriously. I would take a photo, look at it in the camera view thing, and shrug and say, "Oh well, I'll look at it later."

Now, later, 10 hours later, I'm still having trouble focusing.

Huh? Oh, yeah, water with sunlight glancing off

Lots of pretty mushrooms along the path.

Right now I don't even know what this was supposed to be a photo of.  But I like it. Ah, I see now: Those are my legs in shadow as I was hiking up to the little building with a stream running through it.

I saw a few grasshoppers (Melanoplus sanguinipes) along the drier sections of the trail.

Sorry for not taking photos of the grasshoppers. I saw them only because they were hopping and flying.

When they were still, I couldn't see them as they blended in with the dirt and rocks and dry grasses in those sections.

We also saw a few kinds of butterflies and a couple of kinds of damselflies.

The little building, from above

Looking in the little building with the well


See the hawk in this photo? Oh well. It was there. Really.

I felt like I was in a sacred place along parts of this trail.
Two gravel roads crossed the trail along this section. This area seems to have been logged several years ago.
Gillette Lake from above

Here's our hike

End of the trail: Car parked across SR-14 from the trail head.

In this morning's paper we read that some hikers farther north along the trail have had problems because of heavy rains and have had to be rescued; one has still not been found. Now we understand why we saw a helicopter circling overhead a few times. We pray for the hikers who are still in trouble, and for their families.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 2 of Gov't. Shutdown: BNSF

I know a lot of people are writing and saying that the government shutdown isn't affecting them (and, therefore, shouldn't be affecting anyone else, either, and why don't those stupid government bureaucrats stop their whining, anyway!).

As the wife of a federal employee, I must say, it IS affecting both of us! It is devastating for Jeff not to be able to do the work he has been trained to do, especially when he has stayed with his federal job for so many years out of a sense of service to our country. Yes, really.

But I don't think you have to be a federal employee or a member of his/her family to be affected by it. Madame L will probably write more about this.

Meanwhile, I didn't write anything about Day 1 because we just drove up to Great Wolf to say "Hi" to Megan and bring her some flowers (and some gifts for our grand-dogs, of course), and then to Gig Harbor, and then back home again. It was a fun drive in typical Pacific Northwest weather (clouds and sprinkles and cloudbursts followed by sun, more clouds, more rain, and so on) but we didn't even take any photos for some reason.

Today turned out to be special even though the weather was a lot like yesterday, including the rain-sun-sprinkle-rain-repeat, with one exception:

We got to ride on the caboose of a real train! Here's what we saw at first.

We were thinking of going to Mount Rainier but realized it would be closed (yes, because the government is shut down). So we thought we would go to Steigerwald to hike around the trails in the light rain. But when we got there we saw it was closed, too, because it's a National Wildlife Refuge, and the gate was closed, and the ranger was probably at home catching up on yard work or something.

As we started out hike, we saw a train going very slowly on the tracks just north of the river, so we stopped to see what was happening.

That is just the first part. I can't get the other parts to load right now but will get them uploaded ASAP, including the part where we got a ride on the caboose. All of these are especially for Gabriel and Micah!