Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Shoestring Band

My husband is in a band called the Shoestring Band. They play locally in coffee shops and for specialty shows, such as an old-time tractor show. Their music is described as "old timey" folk, country and bluegrass. Here is a sample of their music:

 Eight more Miles to Louisville:

Grandma's Feather Bed:

Ashokan Farewell

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why do you like math?

Whenever I meet people who like math, I have one question:  WHY?????  I ask that question because I honestly can’t understand why ANYONE would like math.

Often the reply is, “Because there is only one right answer.”

And I respond, “Why is that a good thing?”

Having only one right answer means there’s no room for creativity, no room for expressing your own ideas, no room for “good, better and best.”  And it also means that any other answer is WRONG.

Is getting the right answer all that matters?  If so, I blame the school system, which emphasizes tests over creativity and learning.  

I prefer subjects that have many right answers—that have room for growth.  Give me a good essay question over a math equation any day.

In all my years of asking people why they like math, I HAVE gotten a few good answers. One woman said math is like a puzzle to be solved.  I get that.  In fact, the few “mathy” things I like are logic puzzles and the game Mastermind.  (But I hate chess.)  My favorite game, Scrabble, has some math components to it. In fact, math people make the best Scrabble players.  (NOTE:  While I’m a good Scrabble player, I will never win a tournament.)

The best answer came from a math professor who teaches at a small college in South Dakota.  He visited our contra dance group, and he described how contra dancing is actually very mathematical.  During a particularly intricate dance, he smiled and said, “This is neat.”  He explained that he was planning on giving his students an option: take the final or write a contra dance.  I liked that. 

When I asked him why he liked math, he answered with two words: “It’s beautiful.”

That’s an answer I can accept.  Math is not beautiful to me.  I find much more beauty in a well-written poem, a creative painting or a plaintive ballad.  But I can accept that math is beautiful to him.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Facebook’s Other messages folder: How Facebook may be hiding important messages you sent or received

Last week I discovered another sneaky thing Facebook did without telling us.  They gave us a spam folder called “Others” and promptly hid it from us.  Here’s how to find it:  Go to your home page.  Look at the left side.  You should see the following listed:

News Feed
Followed by various favorite links

Now click on Messages and you’ll see a link for Other.  Click on that – and you’ll probably see a huge list of messages you never had a chance to read.

I discovered a few spam messages, but most of them were notes from pages I had liked, or messages about events I was invited to, or messages from strangers who had something important to say to me.  For instance, several months ago I posted on a couple of fan pages, asking for comments from people for an article I was writing for Iditablog.  I discovered five responses that I’d never had a chance to read. It’s too late now to include those in my article.

Mine were fairly innocuous, but other people have missed very important messages, such as job offers, prize winnings or notes from long-lost relatives. My husband discovered a note from someone who turned out to be a cousin living in Sweden he had never met.  Fortunately he discovered it in a reasonable amount of time and was able to respond, but others haven’t been so lucky.  One blogger wrote about how she lost a brand-new laptop, waited a week without hearing anything (or so she thought), and finally bought a new one.  Months later she discovered messages in her Other folder from the person who found her laptop. 

Now that I know how to find the Other folder, I check it often and I shouldn’t lose any more messages.  But what worries me is the messages I try to send. It’s sad that a social media site has taken over our social lives, especially a social media site that hides things from us and makes changes in an underhanded way.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Fall of the Roman Empire Written by a Child

Many books have been written about the fall of the Roman Empire, but here is a summary, written by my older daughter in about fourth grade (I discovered this while cleaning). Both girls are now in college. The younger one asked, "How did you keep a straight face when reading these?"  But I was glad they were learning real history, even if they expressed it in an unusual way.


As the Roman Empire grew weaker and weaker, barbarians started atacking. The barbarians were very rough people and no one really liked them. There emporers dauter was board with life and wanted to do something new. So she decided to marry a barbarian, Atilla the Hun. Atilla thought this is a great way to invad Rome. The Romans were so desprate that they paid Atilla money to go away. But on the way back he died of a nosebleed. The Romans even killed the leader of the army just because he couldn't defeat the barbarians. The emporer was getting scard. He was so scard he packed up all his things and moved to a small swampy town. Meanwhile Rome was being distroyed by a barbarian trib called the vandals. Then Rome totaly fell apart. A barbarian called Orestes chased the emporer away and remaining Romans were being ruled by scatered barbarian kings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Comfortable Summer Dress Made from a Dollar Store T-Shirt

This comfy dress is easy to make and only cost me a dollar! It’s perfect for HOT summer days when you want to be cool and comfortable, but you don’t want to wear shorts and a tank top.  It does take a little bit of sewing knowledge (i.e., how to gather), and you will need a basic sewing machine. 

You will need a large T-shirt.  Use the largest T-shirt you can find.  I used a 4X, which I bought at the dollar store.  You will also need a tank top or T-shirt that fits you.  I had a tank top that I didn’t wear much, but found it matched the T-shirt perfectly.

Cut out the sleeves and cut across the top of the T-shirt. Trim to make it into a skirt shape.  

Measure where you want the waist to be on the tank top and cut about a half an inch below that.

Turn the T-shirt inside out and sew up the sides.  Even though you don’t need to sew all the way to the bottom, it looks better if you do.

Set your stitch length to the longest setting and sew two lines of stitches around the top of the skirt for gathering.

Pin the tank top to the skirt, wrong sides together, gathering the skirt as you go. Match the side seams. Then baste.  I don’t usually take the time to baste when I sew, but I find it is essential for gathering.

Sew the skirt and top together.

Remove the basting stitches.

Press the seam allowances upwards.

Turn the dress right side out and top-stitch just above the seam, making sure to sew through the seam allowances underneath.  (See photo below. Click for a larger view.) This helps reinforce the seam and keeps it from coming undone.

 The dress is done!

Note:  I got inspiration for this dress from my friend Amy's post.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Collective Nouns for Animals, Especially Birds

You can call this a "murder of  crows"
or a "storytelling of crows.
Photo from

Collective nouns for animals have always intrigued me.  This website gives some common collective names for animals, and this one gives some extremely creative (but often little known) collective names for birds. Here are some random observations from the lists.

Otters can be called a raft or a romp.  I particularly like romp because of the way otters love to play.

You can have an ascension of larks or an exaltation of larks.  I wonder why their collective noun sounds like something heavenly.

Both finches and hummingbirds can be called a charm when in a group.  I do find both birds charming, though some may disagree.

Crows can be called a murder or a storytelling.  Perhaps it depends on your perception of these animals.  Starlings are called a murmuration.  Personally, I think murder applies to starlings more.

A destruction of cats is supposed to only be used for wildcats.  But anyone who has seen a domestic cat with a roll of toilet paper would apply it to domestic cats as well.

A lounge of lizards brings forth an image of lizards lying around drinking beer and smoking cigars.

A rhumba of rattlesnakes. Really? (Now I’m always going to be picturing dancing rattlesnakes.  I guess it minimizes the fright factor.)

A building of rooks doesn’t make sense, but somehow it still fits.

When I read “a deceit of lapwings” I had to look it up.  I found that a lapwing is a wading bird of the plover family found nearly everywhere but North America. (No wonder I hadn’t heard of it.) This website says the name comes from the fact that lapwings often present themselves as an easy prey to distract predators from their young. (The website even has a poem about lapwings.)

There's more:  According to this website, a group of ptarmigan is called an invisibleness.  My friend Helen Hegener, a writer who lives in Alaska, says ptarmigan are excellent at camouflage:  "Quite literally invisible when they want to be."  (Click here for more information on Helen's writing.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Fairies Poem and Fairy Garden Photos

 I love garden tours. Today I went on the 23rd Annual Backyard Habitat Tour, sponsored by the Wachiska Audubon Society of Southeast Nebraska. My favorite garden was a delightful fairy garden created by Cathy and John McQuinn.  The whimsical statues and displays nestled in amongst the beautiful flowers reminded me of a favorite childhood poem called "The Fairies." I discovered it in our family's copy of "Childcraft." I used to read the poem in a little sing-songy voice:  "There are FAIRIES at the BOTTOM of our GARDEN. It's NOT so very VERY far aWAY . . . "

Here is the poem, accompanied by photos I took today in the garden:

The Fairies

By Rose Fyleman

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
   It’s not so very, very far away;
You pass the gardener’s shed and you just
keep straight ahead—
  I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.
There’s a little wood, with moss in it and beetles,
  And a little stream that quietly runs through;
You wouldn’t think they’d dare to come
         merry-making there—
                Well, they do.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
  They often have a dance on summer nights;
The butterflies and bees make a lovely little breeze,
  And the rabbits stand about and hold the lights.
Did you know that they could sit upon the moonbeams
  And pick a little star to make a fan,
And dance away up there in the middle of the air?
                Well, they can.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
  You cannot think how beautiful they are;
They all stand up and sing when the Fairy Queen and King
  Come gently floating down upon their car.
The King is very proud and very handsome;
  The Queen—now can you guess who that could be
(She’s a little girl all day, but at night she steals away)?
                Well—it’s ME!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Random Sentence Generator: I CAN write free verse poetry after all

I've never been good at free verse poetry, but I think I've discovered a way to write some. Just use a random sentence generator. My husband discovered one at this link:

I present my first free verse poem:

The emergency literature shuts the teapot inside the more vinyl.
Why does the romance stare over the legal paranoia?
A weapon complains in the extraneous bedroom.

The convincing lunchtime advances in the virgin stereo.
The textual article salts each absent upstairs.
The large helicopter tunnels the infamous skin.
The most frog bounces another insecure ash.

A freeze complains before the crystal.
Should the dirt insult a north?
A competent mill relaxes. A razor kids.
His blessed assumes the diverse skull within the domestic.

The despair chops its delayed lawyer past an arc.

So what do you think?  Why not give it a try?  Use the random sentence generator link above.  You are allowed to delete sentences if you wish, but you can't change the sentences in any way.  I suppose you can rearrange the order of the sentences, though I didn't.

Then share your poem as a comment.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Homemade Spice Mixes

Mixing the Ethiopian spices
I love spice mixes.  I'm a lazy cook, so I find it much easier to just grab one spice jar and shake rather than measure out five different spices. Using spice mixes can help cut down on your use of salt. Spice mixes also make excellent Christmas gifts.  I purchase my spices in bulk from the local health food co-op.  They're economical and probably fresher than the packaged spices.  Here are two mixes that I especially like. Use them with vegetables, soups, stews, stir fry, or wherever you need a special kick.

Ethiopian Spices:
2 parts pepper
2 parts cumin
2 parts ginger
1 part tumeric
Mixing the Scarborough Fair seasoning
4 parts sea salt (optional)

(Note: If you leave out the sea salt, each individual can add salt at the table according to taste.)

Scarborough Fair Seasoning
Equal parts of (you guessed it)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grammar Tip #4: Lie or Lay

It’s easy to get these two words confused.  And there are a few wrinkles that make it even more confusing.

But let’s start with the basics:

Lie means to get into or be a reclining position.  It’s something you do yourself. It can also refer to an object (or objects) at rest.
  • I’m going to lie down for a nap.
  • She likes to lie in the sun.
  • And old quilt lies on our bed.

Lay means to put something down in a horizontal position or a position of rest. It’s something you do to something (or occasionally someone) else.
  • Every evening I lay out the clothes I’m going to wear the next day.
  • I’m going to lay the baby down for a nap.
  • Could you lay the rug by the door?

Now that you have that down (hopefully), let me introduce the wrinkle: the past tense (something that happened in the past).

The past tense of lie is lay.  (Is that confusing or what?) 
  • I lay down for a nap at 2 pm and didn’t wake up until 4.
  • After working out I just lay there, too tired to get up.
  • Fresh snow lay on the ground that morning.

The past tense if lay is laid
  • I laid the baby down for a nap an hour ago.
  • I can’t remember where I laid the paper.
  • He laid the book on the desk.

There’s also something called “past participle.” The easiest way to explain “past participle” is the past tense with a helping verb.

The past participle if lie is lain.
  • Many times I have lain on this bed.
  • She had just lain down when the phone rang.
  • The newspaper has lain there all week.

The past participle of lay is laid (same as the past tense in this case).
  • I have laid tile in this house.
  • Our hen has laid an egg every day this week.
  • We have laid that subject to rest.

Now to add yet another wrinkle to this.  The past tense of lie is different depending on the meaning of the word.  It’s one of only a few words in the English language where this is the case. If you use the word lie to mean “to tell a falsehood,” then the past (and also past participle) is lied. So you would say
  • I don’t like to lie to people
  • I’m sorry I lied to you.
  • He has lied about his age before.
Hopefully you'll remember those examples the next time you ask yourself, "Should I say 'lie' or 'lay'?"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Review of "The Cruelest Miles" by Gay and Laney Salilsbury

In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic struck the town of Nome, Alaska. The serum that the town's only doctor had requested had not arrived on the fall ship that year, and so the lives of many of Nome's children were in danger. The only way to get the life-saving serum to Nome was by a relay of dogsleds. This describes the journey in vivid details. Though it's nonfiction (and historical), it reads like fiction. A good, satisfying read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Spine Poetry: A Delightful Form of Found Poetry

I just discovered Book Spine Poetry.Quinn McDonald described it in a blog called "Quinn Creative." You simply stack up a few books, and each title becomes a line of a poem. When I started putting my stacks together, my husband looked puzzled and finally said, "It's a good way to trick yourself into sorting the bookshelves."  Later a friend came over.  She got it right away.

I found that many books start with "The" and that gets in the way of a good poem.  Finding a book that starts with a preposition or gerund is golden.  And it works better if you ignore the subtitles.

You can "write" as many lines as you wish, but I like the sound of a four-line poem.

Here is my first attempt at Book Spine Poetry.  I'll post the photo first, followed by the poem typed out.

Two old women
Living on the edge
In the land of white death.

The everlasting man
Walking on water,
Swimming with giants,
In search of birds and wild places.

To be a slave,
Hostage to the devil,
The worst hard time,
No end in sight.

The Orthodox way,
The way of a pilgrim,
Path to sanity,
A tiny step away from deepest faith.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Caroline and the Brothers Dank

Here are some videos of Caroline and the Brothers Dank playing at a local coffee shop:
Fiddle Music:

South Wind:

Wagon Wheel:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

You’re going to Name your Baby WHAT? Thoughts on Today’s Baby Names

Photo by idiahoeditor (

Every year our newspaper publishes a special section called “Bundles of Joy.” People pay to have a picture of their baby in the paper. I peruse the section, not so much for the pictures (even though they ARE cute), but for the names.  I find it fascinating what people choose to name their offspring.

Here are my very unscientific observations based on this year’s “Bundles of Joy.”  NOTE: Ideas on baby names are extremely subjective.  I hesitated to write this article because I don’t want to offend anyone.  If I pick on a name you have chosen, I apologize.  This is only one person’s opinion.

There were a total of 134 babies featured this year (if I did my math right).  I divided them into several categories and counted the total babies with names in that category.  All examples are from this year’s “Bundles of Joy” section.

Classic Names – 9
These  are the perenniel favorites, timeless names that will always serve a child well. They were common in my generation, but not as common today.  I only noticed one girls’ name: Anne.  Boys’ names included James, Mark, Thomas, William, Andrew, and Nathaniel.

Boys Names Used for Girls – 10
This is a pet peeve of mine.  Perhaps parents are trying to give their daughter an advantage by giving her a masculine name.  But probably they just like the sound of it.  I don’t.  And what’s worse – it ruins a perfectly good boy’s name.  You probably know a man named Tracy, Stacey, Dana or even Lois.  Those names used to be men’s names, but now the poor men have to suffer through life with a woman’s name.  Here are some of the names listed this year: Parker, Maisyn (changing the spelling does NOT make it a girl’s name, thank you), Payten (ditto), Peytin (ditto), Avery, Riley, Emery (and that is (or rather WAS) such a great boy's name), Halyee, and Reece.  (Okay, Okay, there is Reese Witherspoon, but it’s still a man’s name.) Please, people.

Old-Fashioned Names - 12
These are the names of our grandparents, names our classmates would have laughed at.  But today they are appreciated as “retro.”  I like most of these names. Examples: August, Levi (ok, I don’t like that one),Titus, Veronica, Oliver, Cecelia, Theodore, Cora, Naomi, Juliet (cool!), Ava, Ella.

Trendy but “Normal” Names - 48
These are names that were practically unheard of when I was growing up, but have become commonplace today.  Most of these are now good, solid names that will serve a child well. Examples: Ethan, Karlie, Lily, Lauren, Alison, Justin, Zachary, Carter, Jackson, Katelyn, Landon.

Newbies but Goodies – 30
People are becoming more and more creative with their names – and that can be good.  Some names are made up; others are uncommon or from a unique source. I really like some of the more unusual names.  Here are some examples from this year:
Girls: Amirah, Kinley, Emilia, Vionna, Gemma, Norah, Arynn, Maya, Kinsley, Somara.
Boys: Easton (very nice), Zavian, Donovan, Kyler, Griffin (my daughter really likes this one – I have mixed feelings), Caiden, Cade, Hudson (I really like this one), Emerson.

Just Plain Odd – 25
OK, people, creative is good, but odd is, well . . . ODD!  Here are some that made me shake my head in wonder.
Girls: Isla, Atleigh, Brylee, Brooks (I like Brooke, but Brooks?), Zariyah, Danica (“sounds like yogurt,” my daughter commented), Berkeley (a city in California?), Brinlee ( what???), Honor (honor is a good thing, but a name???), Alivia (Olivia is nice, but why change the first letter?), Alexiana (now you KNOW she’s probably going to be called Lex anyway, so why bother with a five-syllable name?), Harlow (really?  A GIRL named Harlow?  I’d put it in the boy’s names category, but it doesn’t even fit there.),
Boys’ names: Gunner (I’ve heard of the Swedish name Gunnar, but GunnEr???), Brenson, Enzo (Sounds like a laundry detergent), Cruz (this baby was Caucasian, BTW), Ryder, Marek, Brogan, Maddox, Holden, Ryker, Declan (how do you pronounce that, anyway?), Duran.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Recipe: Banana Spice Cake

Here's an easy way to use up those bananas that are getting too ripe.  Keep a box of spice cake mix on hand to use for this. (I try to buy cake mixes when they're on sale)

  • 1 box spice cake mix
  • 2-3 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Empty cake mix into bowl. Add baking soda.  Mix the cake according to package directions, except reduce the water by 1/4 cup.  Add mashed bananas. Bake according to package directions. When cake is cool, frost with buttercream or cream cheese frosting.  Makes a nice, moist cake.

Review of Destination: Love and Whales

I bought this book because it's written by my friend Jeanne Kern, along with Bruce Held. It's a romance between two unlikely people from the same hometown who both end up on a whale watching trip. The other characters on the excursion are fun, and you may even learn something new about whales. It's a fun, quick read. (Note: It does have a couple of "adult" scenes.)

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Fix the Facebook Feed

Facebook is fun, but not when it decides what I want to see.  I am not a fan of the “Highlighted Stories.”  How does Facebook know what stories I want to see the most?  Often the ones I’m most interested in are not the ones I comment on. 

The Facebook Powers that Be have made it better now that we can click on “Sort” and choose “Recent Stories First.”  But it still seems like I’m missing something.  I’ve found I can control what I see on Facebook by using the List feature. 

Here’s how to make a list that will show all the updates on Facebook:
  1. Click on home.
  2. On the left, you should see some lists that have already been created.  (You may need to click on “More” to see it.)
  3. To the right of where it says Lists, click on “More.”
  4. At the top, click on “Create List”
  5. Give it a name. For this list, call it “All Friends” or “Everyone.”
  6. Click on “Create.”
  7. Click on “Add Friends”
  8. The next step is the time consuming one.  Click on every single friend you have. Make sure they are checkmarked after you click on the name.
  9. When you are done, click “Done.”
  10. Now you will see everything that the group has posted.  There is one more step. On the upper right click on “Manage List” and scroll down to “Choose Update Types.”  You can choose what you want to see from this list.  If you want to see everything, that’s fine.  But perhaps you don’t want to see updates about games, so you can unclick that.
  11. Now go back to home and look at your lists.  Do you see your “All Friends” list?  If not, click on “More.”  Hover your mouse to the left of the name and you will see a pencil icon. Click on that icon and click on “Add to Favorites.”  This will move that list to your Favorites list at the top, so you can find it more easily.  Now, whenever you log into Facebook, click on “All Friends” and you will see all the updates without any Facebook censoring.

Whenever you make a new friend on Facebook, remember to add them to the list.  You can also go back under “Manage List” and add the new friends from time to time.

Now that you know how to make a list, you may want to make other lists. You can make another list of all friends, call it “Photos” and under “Choose Update Types” choose only “Photos.” You may want to do the same with status updates.

 You can also make subgroups. You might want to make a list of people who you are most interested in (instead of letting Facebook decide what you want to see.)  Call it “News” or “Top Friends” or whatever you want. Just go through all the steps listed above, but instead of clicking on all your friends, just click on your top friends. You can make lists for various aspects of your life, such as friends from school, church, work or an organization, or simply “Old Friends.”  I also made one for Fan pages.  To do that, when you go to add friends, look at the upper left corner of the Friends Box, where it says “Friends.” Drop down and choose “Pages” instead, and you’ll see all your fan pages.  Choose all those, and you will have a list of fan pages.

You’ll find it much easier to keep up with everyone by using the lists feature. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review of the Dovekeepers

The Dovekeepers is a historical fiction book set in a unique place and time - the Jewish fortress called Masada, during the Jewish-Roman war of 70 AD. The story is told from the point of view of four women who work tending the doves, whose droppings fertilize the gardens in their fortress-village. Their lives intertwine in often surprising ways. It's a story of struggle and suffering told in beautiful language. The characters are intriguing, though their actions are not always entirely believable. But it's an interesting look at an event in history not often talked about.

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

Monday, January 2, 2012

Grammar Tip #3: “Mary and I” or “Mary and me”?

For some reason most people always use “Mary and I” (or “he and I” or “she and I,” etc.) in a sentence, no matter where the phrase lies.  So they end up saying something like this: “Mary and I went for a walk. A cop gave Mary and I a ticket for jaywalking.”

The first sentence is correct, but the second sentence is incorrect.  Why? In grammatical terms, the rule goes like this: Use “Mary and I” when the phrase is the subject of the sentence, and use “Mary and me” when the phrase is the object of a verb or preposition.  But that might as well be a foreign language to some people.

It is helpful to note that “Mary and I” often comes at the beginning of a sentence, while “Mary and me” comes in the middle or at the end of a sentence.  But that doesn't always work.

The best way I’ve found to determine which to use is simply to take out the “Mary and.”  Then read the sentence and see what sounds better.  Thus: “I went for a walk” sounds good, but “A cop gave I a ticket for jaywalking” sounds odd.  It should be “A cop gave me a ticket for jaywalking.”  Thus we should use, “A cop gave Mary and me a ticket for jaywalking.”

Here are some more examples:

He and I both like to eat sour apples.
It seems to her and me that we should turn left here.
On Friday, Sarah and I went to the movies.
Don’t tell Fred and me what to do.