Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart

As a recent convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, I was interested in learning more about Fyodor Dostoevsky, an Orthodox Christian writer who lived in Russia from 1821-1881. I admit that I’ve never ready any of Dostoevsky’s works, but my daughters list his Crime and Punishment among their favorite books. I decided to read this biography to learn more about him.

As is true of many artists, Dostoevsky was a tortured soul, in more ways than one. He suffered from epilepsy and other ailments, experienced profound loneliness at times, and was unfaithful in marriage. Because of his political views, he was sent to a prison camp in frigid Siberia. It was there that his faith took root, and this faith became a central part of his novels. Though he achieved success as a novelist, he struggled financially all his life. The final chapter tells of a moment of victory he experienced during a speech he gave honoring the Russian poet Pushkin.

The author uses fiction techniques to tell the story of Dostoevsky in an interesting way.  The story comes out in bits and pieces, through conversations, recollections and flashbacks.  I found myself confused at points, and more than once I wished the author had told the story in a chronological, linear format.

I found Dostoevsky a fascinating character, and I learned a lot about a little-known period of Russian history. Perhaps it’s my turn to read Crime and Punishment.

NOTE: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Booksneeze. The opinions expressed are my own.

 You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Major 2012 Sled Dog Races in Alaska - Mostly Mid-Distance and Long-Distance Dogsled Races

The following are the major sled dog races in Alaska.  Click on the name of each race to go to the website for the race.  See my previous post for a handy chart in pdf form that you can print out.

Sheep Mountain 150 - Dec. 17, 2011

Alaska Excursions 120 - Dec. 17, 2011

Gin Gin 200 -  Dec. 28, 2011

Knik 200  - Jan. 7, 2012

Copper Basin 300 - Jan. 14, 2012

Kuskokwim 300* - Jan. 20, 2012

Northern Lights 300 - Jan. 27, 2012

Don Bowers 200 - Jan. 27, 2012

Tustemena 200 - Jan. 28, 2012

Yukon Quest - Feb. 4, 2012

Fur Rendezvous - Feb. 24, 2012

Junior Iditarod - Feb. 25, 2012

Iditarod - Mar. 3, 2012

Percy DeWolfe  - Mar. 22, 2012

Kobuk 440 - Apr. 12, 2012

*Includes Bogus Creek

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2012 Sled Dog Races - A Chart for Following the Races

It's almost time for Sled Dog Racing season!  The first two races start this weekend.  Following the races online adds so much excitement to the long winter days.  I've made a chart for following the major races in Alaska.  This is by no means an exhaustive list; but it includes most of the mid-distance races, the two distance races (Iditarod and Yukon Quest) and the Fur Rondy.  Simply follow this link and print out the pdf.  The chart includes the name of the race, the start date, the website (which you can click to follow) and another blank, which you may use how you wish.  You may use the blank to fill in your favorite musher, the winner, or whatever you wish to remember about the race.

Click here for the chart.

Happy race season!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Velvet Shoes - "Let us walk in the white snow."

We had our first snow today, and I went walking in the falling snow. It reminded me of the poem "Velvet Shoes," by Elinor Wylie.  Some say this poem has symbolism of love and marriage. To me, it's just a good example of poetry.  I use it in my poetry writing class to demonstrate excellent use the poetic elements of simile, metaphor, alliteration, repetition, unusual words together (i.e., white silence), and involving all the senses.

Because this poem was written in 1921, it is in the public domain.  I have illustrated it with photos that I took during today's walk.

Velvet Shoes
Let us walk in the white snow
In a soundless space;
With footsteps quiet and slow,
At a tranquil pace,
Under veils of white lace.

I shall go shod in silk,
And you in wool,
White as white cow’s milk,
More beautiful
Than the breast of a gull.

We shall walk through the still town
In a windless peace;
We shall step upon white down,
Upon silver fleece,
Upon softer than these.

We shall walk in velvet shoes;
Wherever we go
Silence will fall like dews
On white silence below.
We shall walk in the snow.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Grammar Tip #2: Its vs. It’s

This is another one of my pet peeves. As more and more people rely on spell checkers instead of editors, this type of mistake is becoming commonplace.

It can be confusing, but it really is quite simple.  Here is the basic rule:

Use it’s (with an apostrophe) when you mean it is or it has.  In this case, the word it’s is a contraction, like isn’t or won’t.

It’s a beautiful day.
I like this movie because it’s funny.
It's been a long winter.

Use its (without an apostrophe) when you mean belonging to it.  In this case, the word its is a pronoun (possessive pronoun to be exact), like the word his or her.

The cat licked its fur.
Nebraska is known for its friendly people.
Hard work has its rewards.

If it helps, you can ask yourself this question: Can I substitute his or her for its in the sentence (even though it may not quite make sense).

For instance, although it doesn't totally make sense, you could say
The cat licked her fur.
Nebraska is known for his friendly people.
Hard work has her rewards.

But it would be ridiculous to say:
His a beautiful day.
I like this movie because her funny.
His been a long winter.

The usage of its can be especially confusing because if you were to use the noun instead of its, you would use an apostrophe: “the cat’s fur,” “Nebraska’s friendly people,” “hard work’s rewards.”  But think again of the words his and her, or other possessive pronouns: my, your, our, their. None of them use an apostrophe.  Because its is a possessive pronoun, it does not have an apostrophe either.

Grammar Tip #1: Everyday vs. Every Day

The incorrect use of everyday as one word has become one of my pet peeves.  I see it in print all the time.  Because a spellchecker doesn’t know how the word is used, it accepts everyday as one word all the time.  This simple rule will help you determine when to use everyday as one word and when to use two words: every day.

Use one word when everyday is used an adjective, that is, when it comes right before a noun and answers the question, “What kind?”

These are my everyday shoes.
Running into people I know is an everyday happening for me.
Let’s use the everyday tablecloth.

Use two words when every day is used as an adverb, that is, when it answers the question, “how often?” It often comes after the verb, but it can come at the beginning of a sentence too.

I walk to work every day.
Take this vitamin every day.
Every day we have this same conversation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Poem about November

Few poets want to write about November.  It’s just not the stuff of poetry.  So I decided to write one myself.  I’ve become a fan of blank verse lately, so that is the style I chose. Its 14 lines will remind you of a sonnet as well.


November days are not the stuff of poems.
The chilling rain from dreary cloudy skies,
Too late for farmers to be glad it’s there,
Not cold enough to snow, so what’s the use?

The reds and yellows that we all admired
Have given way to brown and barren boughs
And endless piles of leaves to put in bags
And line the streets to wait for garbage trucks.

In recent years November has become
The month to write that novel long neglected.
Nothing else to do but stay inside
And wait for snow and coming Christmas joys.

The month seems like a comma or a dash
That serves no purpose but to slow us down.

Review of Eerie Erie by Robin S. Swope a.k.a. the Paranormal Pastor

I had no idea that Erie, Pennsylvania, is the home of haunted places, UFO sightings, historical mysteries and strange creatures. Pastor Robin Swope has become an expert in all things paranormal, and has developed quite a following on his blog, The Paranormal Pastor. His book is well researched and well written. I was especially intrigued by the stories of the thunderbird, as I was not familiar with this legend. The first part of the book moves a little slowly, but be patient; it gets better. Unlike his first book,True Tales of the Unexplained, Eerie Erie has no typos or errors (that I noticed) and reads like a book, not a series of blog posts.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review of Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin

This book relates the true stories of five exorcisms performed in the 70s. The stories are told in a fictional format with lots of detail. It's a fast read, but I had to stop halfway through and take a break, since the incidents were disturbing and a bit vulgar at times. In addition to detailing the history of the possessed and how they opened their hearts to the demonic, the book gives the history of each of the priests who did the exorcisms.  It's chilling, but the good wins out in the end, though not without a struggle.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review of Atheist Delusions

This book is written as a response to "The God Delusion" and some of the other books by the "new atheists." It focuses on the history of Christianity and takes on some of the typical arguments that atheists use. It's not easy reading, but I did learn a lot through this book.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Two Favorite October Poems

I love October. There's something about it that makes people want to write poetry.  Two of my favorite poems are about October.  I've combined these two autumn poems with some original photos, most of which were taken in my own neighborhood.  (These poems are both old enough to be in the public domain, so there is no copyright infringement.)

A Vagabond Song
by Bliss Carman

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.
And my lonely spirit thrills
To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame
She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;      
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,      
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;      
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—      
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Sociology of Earbuds

Earbuds (and the iPods/mp3 players attached to them) have changed the world. I admit, I’m guilty myself. While walking my dog or commuting on the bus, I get bored. I’m not much for music in my ear. (I prefer to listen to music in the air, not through earbuds.) But I love podcasts.  For me it’s mostly recordings from AncientFaith Radio and occasionally Mushing Magazine.  (Yeah, I’m a bit odd.)

Here we are, crammed in a bus, but no one communicates. I sit next to someone, so close that we have to tense up to keep from touching, but yet neither one acknowledges the other; we both are in the world of our recordings.  It’s just not right.

So sometimes I rebel. I’ve made friends with the morning bus driver. We’re usually the only ones talking on the bus. I’m not sure what the others think of our chattering.  But the driver tells me she looks forward to picking me up each day.

But I still plug in on my evening commute. A couple of days ago I sat down and plugged in as usual. A young woman sat close to me. I smiled at her. I recognized her from somewhere.  But I was already plugged in, so I didn’t say anything.  Then the bus stopped and waited while a young girl gathered her musical instrument and backpack and got off the bus. We watched her, our eyes showing our concern for the young girl riding the bus alone.

When she had gotten off, I paused my podcast, looked at the young woman and said, “She seems kind of young to riding the bus by herself.”

That comment started a conversation.  I asked the young woman where I knew her from, and she said it was just from the bus. (I still think I know her from somewhere else, perhaps the Table, where I eat lunch frequently, but she could be right.) We exchanged names, I asked her what she was studying, she asked about my job, where I lived, what I was listening to. I made a new friend on the bus, and I look forward to seeing her again. 

What a concept: Making a new friend on the bus. It used to happen all the time; but now it’s an oddity.  And it makes me concerned for the future of our society.
Maybe I’ll unplug more often.

Review of Faith Reborn: A Personal Apologetics

I love true stories. Telling a story - especially a true story or testimonial - is one of the best ways to communicate. This story of a man's recovery of faith is told from the heart. But it's more than a story. It's an explanation of some of the best reasons for the Christian faith. I recommend it for anyone who is struggling to believe.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Review of Spiritual Anorexia: How Contemporary Worship Is Starving the Church

I urge everyone to read this book. It will open your eyes to what is ailing today's church. This book is a welcome change from the modern "seeker friendly" philosophy that pervades our churches. If we worship a holy God, then our worship needs to reflect that. The modern church is missing out on a rich and beautiful tradition that dates back two thousand years to the time of Christ and the apostles. Reading this book will introduce you to that tradition and bring a fresh perspective on the meaning of worship.

 You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

True Tales of the Unexplained Book Review

True Tales of the Unexplained Book Review
A pastor writing about ghosts, UFOs, werewolves, demons and other paranormal manifestations? Sounds impossible? Not when the author is Robin Swope, the "paranormal pastor," whose blog has an avid following. This book is an easy--and interesting--read. It also suffers from the lack of editing so common in most self-published books, including some spots where it's obvious that the writing first appeared in a blog. But if you can look past those flaws, you'll find a fascinating book.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

That's One Determined Dog

Another great dog video I found. We could all learn something from Gus's determination.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I invented the iPad in 1970

Move over, Al Gore. You may have invented the internet, but I invented the iPad, the iPhone and the many other tablet devices that are coming out.

It really should be called the “Zhing Thing.”

I was in fifth grade. My school friends and I would soon be too old to play pretend, but I still wanted to hang on to that childhood joy. Plus, I hated sports. I still wanted to play pretend at recess, and I wanted my friends to join me. But at that age, I knew I needed to come up with something more interesting than house or pioneers.

So we were aliens from the planet Zhingm. A favorite hollowed out corner of the playground filled with weed trees (dubbed “The Hole”) became our spaceship. The rest of the grassy lot became the various planets we visited. We inhaled our food (called Chigamabobolu, with a soft ch pronounced like sh) and took in oxygen by osmosis instead of breathing. I called myself Chemey (soft ch again), and my friends followed suit with Chimey, Chomey, Chumey, etc.

Zhingm was new, sophisticated, and reminded everyone of Star Trek, which was current then. It was cool enough to draw most of the girls in my class away from sports, even if for a little while. And that made me happy.

Drawing from the Star Trek communicator idea, I came up with the “Zhing Thing.” The Zhing Thing was a multipurpose device we carried with us everywhere. I made mine out of a Good and Plenty candy box covered with paper. On it I drew all the different things that this amazing machine could do. Besides being a mobile phone (more of a walkie talkie type device, I think), it included a camera, tape recorder, TV, radio, record player, and possibly a weapon-type device. I don’t remember what else included, but it was pretty amazing.

I couldn’t even imagine videos at that time, much less a portable computer, and certainly not the internet. I couldn’t even imagine a portable calculator. But I did imagine carrying around a small device that could do multiple things. At that time, it seemed like the stuff of science fiction, something only aliens would be advanced enough to figure out. I never dreamed it would happen in my lifetime.

Now if only I could sue Apple for patent infringement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heady Waters Book Review

Heady Waters has all the elements of a good murder mystery - a bizarre killing, quirky characters, intrigue, a bit of romance -- all while wondering "who done it?" The author's legal expertise brings authenticity to his first novel, and the Nebraska setting is a refreshing change. Sure, there are a few typos and grammar/usage problems, commonly seen in self-published pieces, and the Kindle version has some formatting glitches. But overall, it's a good, entertaining read.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Murder on the Yukon Quest Book Review

I don't read much fiction, but hey, this one's about mushing so I had to read it. I read her book Murder on the Iditarod Trail several years ago and enjoyed it, so I decided to pick this one up. It's a good old-fashioned murder mystery, but it's set during the Yukon Quest, a 1000 mile race from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks, Alaska. The checkpoints and race info was accurate, but because it was a work of fiction, the mushers were all fictional, which was a bit unnerving. However, I took comfort that one of the dogs in the race was named Silver. That's the name of Brent Sass's lead dog. Brent has attained hero status for rescuing other mushers, and he gives all the credit to Silver.

You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Heaven is For Real Book Review

I just finished reading Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.  This readable and engaging book tells the true story of a little boy's near death experience during an appendectomy. Several months after his surgery, three-year-old Colton began telling his parents bits and pieces of what he saw in heaven. Many of the anecdotes defy explanation. For instance, Colton told his parents that he had a sister in heaven. His mother had had a miscarriage but hadn't told Colton. You can see the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Publishing Today: How E-books and Self-Publishing Have Changed the Writing World

What a difference two years makes.  Just two years ago I attended a panel discussion about "The Future of Publishing," which was part of the Nebraska Summer Writer's Conference. The panelists seemed to be stuck in the past. They talked about traditional publishing and didn't even bring up ebooks or self-publishing until someone in the audience dared mention it; and then it was "pooh-poohed" (for lack of a better term).

This year the panel focused on e-books, print-on-demand and how to use social media to promote your writing. The panelists included a couple of agents, three writers, a publicist, and an editor with a small publishing house.  Here are a few tidbits of info that I gleaned from the panel:

  • Writers can use YouTube to promote your writing.  Here's a link a clever book trailer.  Because it's entertaining, it grabs your attention, and you don't realize it's a book trailer.  It's very well done.  (However, I still cringe when I see the pregnant woman drinking alcohol.  I know it's fiction and all, but it really bothers me.)
  • What is success to you?  Is success selling thousands of books? Or is it simply telling your story.  The new world of e-books, blogging and self-publishing can help you reach your goal of telling your story.
  • It's hard to find an audience for self-published fiction.  However, nonfiction seems to do well.  (And I was VERY pleased to note that there was no ranting about nonfiction writers needing to have a "platform.")
  • Self-published books still need professional editing.
  • Find an agent you can work with. Not all personalities will be able to work well together.
  • Work on your craft. Make sure your writing is in the best shape it can be.
  • Write now.
  • Be open.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Talk to others. (Critique groups are great.  I share this from personal experience.)
  • Look at what you like to read and who publishes the books. 
  • Write even if you don't feel like it.
  • Be ready to sell your book and sell yourself.
  • Tell the story. Only you can tell the story.
  • Get to know independent book publishers.
  • Have a book signing at a bar and give away a free glass of champagne if someone buys the book. (Split the cost with the bartender.)
  • Pen names are usually only to hide a bad sales record.
  • Don't put in changes in your book that you don't agree with.

I recently read "Christus Victor" by Gustaf Aulen

I admit, this is not an easy read.  It's quite deep, and I probably understood only about half of it.  But it gave a good history of the three different views of the atonement: the Eastern church fathers, the western view, and the modern liberal view.  It stretched my thinking, and I learned something, though personally I prefer books that are easier to understand.

You can see all the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

I just finished reading "The Jesus Prayer" by Frederica Mathewes-Green

This book is by my favorite podcaster on Ancient Faith Radio. The Jesus Prayer is an ancient prayer developed by the Desert Fathers. Quite simply, it's "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  It's a simple, but powerful prayer. This book, written in an easily readable style, talks about how to pray the Jesus Prayer and how it can change you.

You can see all the books I've read so far (starting in 2011) here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Beneficial Insects for the Garden: A Natural Pest Control Method

Not all bugs are bad for plants. Learn what makes some insects beneficial to your garden, some common beneficial bugs, and how to attract beneficial insects.

When you see a bug on your flowers, do you immediately grab the insecticide? Think again. Some insects kill common garden pests, help aerate and fertilize the soil, and pollinate your flowers. These beneficial insects are actually a form of do it yourself pest control.

Common Beneficial Insects

Lady Bugs
(or Lady Beetles) are easily recognized by their orange color and black spots. They eat aphids, which are frequent garden pests. Ladybug larvae, though not as easily recognized, eat as many as 40 aphids per day, making them tops in the beneficial category.

Praying Mantises
ambush and eat any kind of insect. Because they’re territorial, you aren’t likely to see a large concentration of praying mantises in any one garden. But the ones you do see are powerful predators that will benefit your garden.

Tachinid flies and parasitoid wasps (such as trichogramma wasps), though tiny, have a tremendous impact on the garden because they destroy many caterpillars, which feed on plants. They actually insert eggs inside the body of a caterpillar, and the larvae feed on the caterpillar host.

Bees spread pollen as they go from flower to flower. Pollination is important for ornamental flowers, but it’s also vital for many fruits and vegetables that depend on cross-pollination, such as squash, raspberries and fruit trees.

Lacewings have delicate transparent wings and green bodies. Both the larvae and the adult stages eat a variety of pests that you don’t want in your garden. The larvae actually latch onto insect eggs and soft bodied insects to suck them dry

Hover flies, also called syrphid flies are often seen hovering over flowers in the early spring and fall. The larval stage feeds on aphids, and the adult stage pollinates flowers.

Spiders, though not technically insects, are beneficial predators as well. Large orb weavers are commonly seen in the fall, but smaller spiders remain active all summer long. Not all spiders weave webs. Some prowl on the ground, searching for soft-bodied insects, while others create lairs to hide in while watching for prey.

Earthworms, which are also not technically insects, play an important role in aerating the soil, which is necessary for root and plant growth. They also help break down leaves into rich garden soil.

Pros and Cons of Using Beneficial Insects for Organic Pest Control

Many gardeners prefer to use beneficial insects rather than spraying their garden with unnatural and potentially harmful chemicals. However, relying on beneficial insects alone may mean you have to tolerate some damage to your plants. It’s a choice each gardener needs to make.

Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden

Plant a variety of flowers that will bloom all summer, including drought-resistant native wildflowers that will withstand potential rainless times in late summer. Many beneficial insects feed on nectar and pollen, so you may want to put out a small saucer of sugar water to supplement nectar, especially when rain is scarce. Make sure you change the water often to avoid stagnation.

Avoid using broad-range pesticides, which kill the good bugs along with the pests. Choose a less toxic product, such as insecticidal soap, and apply it in the evening, when the beneficial insects are less active. When possible, chose insecticides that target specific pests.

Buying Beneficial Insects

Biological supply houses sell beneficial insects of various types. You can purchase predators that feed on a wide variety of garden pests or choose insects and other organisms that target specific pests that might be a problem in your garden.

Relying on beneficial insects may take a little more patience, but it’s a satisfying way to garden without using chemicals and upsetting the balance of nature.

This article was originally published at Suite101 here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poor Dog

Everyone who has a dog can probably relate to this video.  It's become one of my favorites:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blank Verse Poetry: Iditarod 2011

I'm currently developing a poetry curriculum, and I decided to write a unit on blank verse. Blank verse (for those who don't know) is poetry that has meter (or rhythm) but no rhyme. The most common meter used for blank verse is the ubiquitous iambic pentameter. (If you don't know what that is, look it up or buy my curriculum when it comes out.)

Most of Shakespeare's plays were written in blank verse. I was pleased to discover that my favorite poet, Robert Frost, also wrote many of his poems in blank verse. I always thought they were in free verse, but that is not the case. A couple of my favorite poems--Mending Wall and Birches--are classic examples of blank verse. Some of the lines deviate from the meter a bit, but that is typical in blank verse. Whether the poet varied the lines on purpose to break up the monotony or just couldn't fit certain thoughts into the meter is still up for debate.

I decided to try writing some blank verse of my own.  Of course, I wrote about my favorite subject--the Iditarod. Here's my first attempt at blank verse. (Just a word of clarification: the two mushers discussed are named Lance Mackey and John Baker. I used the first name or last name depending on which fit the meter.)

Iditarod 2011

This year it seemed that Lance would win again.
The four-time champ was spoken of by all.
And at the mushers’ start on Willow Lake,
The Mackey fans were confident and proud.

But as the race progressed through ice and snow,
His sixteen dogs soon dwindled down to nine.
The other dogs were taken in a plane,
To meet their master when the race was done.

And as the “ninesters” plodded down the trail,
The fans were hoping desperately still
That through some magic that the champ possessed
The team would win and make them proud again.

But in the end a native man named John,
A quiet musher, humble and serene,
Inupiaq by tribe from Kotzebue,
Would win the Last Great Race in record time.

The native dancers at the finish line,
The drumbeats pounding out the victory march,
The cheering fans that crowded round the chute
Brought tears to people all around the world.

What of the Mackey fans that were so sure
Their favorite would win the race this year?
The all agreed that seeing Baker win
Was just as satisfying after all.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Books about the Iditarod and Dogsledding

Like many mushing fans, I love to read books about sled dog racing. My favorite shelf on my bookshelf is the one with my mushing books. Here are some more of my favorite Iditarod books:

Father of the Iditarod - The Joe Redington Story by Lew Freedman. To be a true fan, you need to know how the Great Race started. This is the story of Joe Redington, his move to Alaska, his mushing career, and his dream to start a race across Alaska. Learn the challenges he faced and what the early days of the race was like. And discover other adventures that Joe enjoyed, such as mushing up Mount McKinley.

Iditarod Classics and More Iditarod Classics, both by Lew Freedman. These two books give short snippets about individual mushers and the adventures they faced. If you’ve been a fan a long time, the books will bring back memories of past mushers. If you’re a new fan, they’ll introduce you to the fascinating history of the race.

Iditarod Dreams: A Year in the Life of Alaskan Sled Dog Racer DeeDee Jonroweby Lew Freedman and Dee Dee Jonrowe. Dee Dee Jonrowe is a perennial favorite. In this book, Dee Dee shares how she started racing and gives you a glimpse into a year of her life, including training, her participation in a European race called the Alpirod, and finishing with the 1994 Iditarod. This book is a bit outdated, but it still gives a fresh look into an inspiring woman.

Backstage Iditarodby June Price. This book is a must for all fans. If you’re planning on coming to the race start, it gives you a preview of what to expect. If you just wish you were coming to the race start, it gives you an opportunity to experience it vicariously. June Price is a die-hard fan herself, and she shares from her personal experience.

Iditarod Fact Book: A Complete Guide to the Last Great Race 2nd Editionedited by Tricia Brown. This book is more of a reference book, though die-hard fans will read it from cover to cover. It starts with a year-by-year history of the race through 2006, and proceeds to facts about the race today, the checkpoints, dogs and training, gear and mushing terms and unforgettable people. An excellent reference to keep next to your computer while following the race.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Alaskan Adventures of an Iditarod Championby Jeff King (with Joe Runyan). Although written in first person, this isn’t a biography per se. It’s a series of stand-alone chapters, little vignettes from the life of a musher. It’s well written and very enjoyable, even if you’re not a mushing fan. “Breath of Life” tells the story of a dog who was miraculously revived by a fellow musher during the Yukon Quest. “Chowhound” is about Peg, a dog with an amazing appetite who ate a highway flare. My favorite chapter, “The Colonel,” tells about a Halloween visit from Norm Vaughan.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way: Unconventional Sled Dog Secrets of an Alaskan Iditarod Champion, Vol. 1by Mitch Seavey. This is a training manual, of sorts, written for dog mushers. What makes this story appealing for fans is that we can hear Mitch’s voice in the writing. There’s no editor here. It’s purely Mitch, with his dry wit and blunt honesty. Parts may find you laughing out loud. And you’ll learn a lot about mushing too, which will make you a very savvy fan.

The Lance Mackey Storyby Lance Mackey (with Joe Runyan). No list of mushing books would be complete without the inspiring story of Lance Mackey, who overcame addiction, poverty and cancer to become one of the best mushers in the history of the race. It’s a very well-written read and one that you won’t be able to put down.

Graveyard of Dreams- Dashed Hopes and Shattered Aspirations Along Alaska's Iditarod Trail by Craig Medved. The Iditarod is not just about the winners or even the front runners. It’s about all the mushers who attempt this great adventure. Graveyard of Dreams tells the story of several back of the pack mushers in the 2010 Iditarod, including some who made it to Front Street and some who did not. Relive the tragic stories of those who had to scratch or were withdrawn, as well as those who managed to finish.

What about you? What are some of your favorite books about the Iditarod or mushing? Leave a comment and share your favorites.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dawson Dolly Singing my Song

Remember my song "16 dogs"? A couple years ago, the girls and I rewrote the lyrics to Tennessee Ernie Ford's classic song, "16 Tons." We changed it to "16 Dogs." The topic? The Iditarod, of course. You can read the original version and listen to the girls singing here.

A few months ago I shared the lyrics with "Dawson Dolly," an Alaskan entertainer I met on Facebook. I encouraged her to sing the song wherever she wanted. Together we made history. She's a good friend of musher Hugh Neff. When he left the Dawson City Checkpoint. Dolly sent him off with my song. (She changed the lyrics a bit to fit with the Yukon Quest.) It was an instant YouTube phenomenon. Here it is:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do Lemmings Commit Suicide?

True or False: Lemmings periodically commit suicide by throwing themselves into the sea.

That’s what I was taught as a child. In fact, that’s what it says in the 1967 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, which graced the walls of my living room when I was a kid. And if the World Book said it, then it had to be correct.

But it’s not.  In truth, lemmings do migrate occasionally, and during this mass migration, some may accidentally fall off cliffs. Others may swim across a lake, where they may accidentally drown. Perhaps that is where this weird idea started.

Photo by
 The myth was perpetuated by 1958 Disney film called White Wilderness, which  showed footage of lemmings jumping off a cliff into the sea. In truth, the scene was faked. Filmmakers threw a few lemmings into the water to create the effect of hundreds of lemmings throwing themselves into the sea.

To the filmmakers credit, they did not actually state that the lemmings committed suicide, but rather that they thought the sea was a lake, and they set out to cross it, only to drown. However, the dramatic (albeit faked) movie scene simply reinforced the lemming suicide legend. I was shocked to discover that it was not true.

When I made this discovery, I shared it with my 16-year-old daughter.  “What?” she replied. “You mean there really is such an animal as a lemming?” She only knew of lemmings as part of a computer game she used to play.  (The game is still available in PC, PlayStation, or PSP format.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Telephone Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska: The Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Museum

A museum about the telephone? Actually, it's quite interesting. I recently toured the Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Museum for an article I was writing. The museum gained popularity after it was featured in the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man.

In this world of digital everything, it's easy to forget that clunky switchboards like the ones in the photo were still in use until the 1960s. In fact, the earliest switchboards were often in the operator's home. An older friend remembers a childhood friend who often had to miss school because her mother was sick and couldn't work the switchboard. This little girl had to stay home and work the switch board or the entire town would be without phone service.

The dial demonstrator shows how switches operated when a phone was dialed. Wally Tubbs, one of the founders of the museum who often leads school tours, says that most kids are kind of stumped when they see this exhibit, because they don't know how to dial a phone. They've only used touch tone phones.

Wally explained that the switches took up almost an entire city block. He described the process of tracing a call. When the police or 911 dispatcher contacted the telephone company about a call that needed to be traced, an employee needed to run all over the huge building to determine where the switches had connected. It was difficult work, but it needed to be done correctly, because sometimes (as with a 911 call), someone's life was at stake. Things are a lot easier now with Caller ID.

If you are passing through Lincoln, Nebraska (remember, it's right off I-80), you may want to take some time to visit this free museum. But call ahead. It's only open to the public on Sunday afternoons, but you may arrange a tour by calling 402-436-4640.

You can read my article here:

Overlooked Lincoln: The Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Museum