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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Farewell The Faeries

The Durhams had a discussion a few weeks back. A big one, in a way. It marks the end of an era, and was particularly relevant to the Holiday season. Let me go back to the beginning, though...

About five years ago I heard a story on NPR. It was about how children at five and six and seven, etc very much still had the capacity to believe in magic. I recall the story feeling quite special, as if the presenter had taken advantage of that to build a real fantasy life into his kids' childhood. I rather liked the idea, so I tried to give it a shot myself.

There's Santa, of course. My kids had no problem buying into that. Personally, I find it a bit problematic. The notion of a jolly old white gentleman breaking in to houses all across the world to leave presents for kids - some kids, not all - is actually kinda weird. But I'm no spoilsport. I went with it.

But lots of kids believe in Santa. I wanted to push it a little further. I asked my daughter if she believed in faeries, and of course she did. As Maya was learning to read, I thought perhaps a fairy could give her some encouragement. So Maya began receiving letters from Sandy, The Reading Fairy of Western Massachusetts. They would just appear at some point, printed out and placed in some obvious space. Sandy would praise Maya on her recent successes, and then give her words to practice, reading goals, encouragement. Maya loved it. She wrote letters back. She had absolutely no problem believing in Sandy - or none that she expressed - and seemed to get a lot out of it.

Not long after, there was a bit of a tragedy in our house. One of our cats - very much beloved - went missing. It was pretty clear old Boy-Boy had likely become a meal for a fox, coyote or fishercat. He stayed out one night and didn't come back. Them woods are dangerous. Maya and Sage were devastated. Not much that we could say helped. But then, they got a note from the Cat Fairy.

The Cat Fairy is the fairy charged with protecting and looking after cats. She had heard that Maya and Sage were upset, and did a little detective work. She said she thought that Boy-Boy had gone on an adventure. She couldn't be sure. She'd heard a bit about him from other cats, but she hadn't spoken to him herself. She admitted that it's a dangerous world out there, and that cats do get killed by other animals, but she left the possibility that Boy-Boy was just too adventurous to stay at home.

This seems to have helped them deal with it. It didn't hurt that we promptly got another cat - Dolphin - to keep our cat population at two.

This began a correspondence that continued on and off for several years. Maya was always keen to give the Cat Fairy feline-related news...

And she always got responses, like this (It's a crinkled note, but may be readable if you click on it)...

I've got an folder filled with letters like this. A bit of treasure that I'll hand over to Maya one day, I hope.

And then there was Sage. He'd had a front row seat to all of this, but there had to be a fairy especially for him. There was. The Snake Fairy... See, Sage's favorite animals are snakes. Always has been. Go figure. The Snake Fairy was very happy to hear from Sage, and they struck up a correspondence. This mostly involved Sage impressing the Snake Fairy with his knowledge of rare types of snakes. The boy's knowledge is impressive, actually...

Thing is, the approach of Christmas this year caused a change in all this. Apparently, a friend of theirs challenged the notion of Santa Claus. This, in turn, led Sage to bring the topic up with Gudrun. And she, in turn, pushed the question my way. So... for a variety of other reasons we figured it was time to come clean. We did. The kids took it with considerable humor. Maya knew already. Sage gleefully recalled presents from the past, things stuck in stockings, cookies and whiskey set out for Santa. (Yes, I had to confess finishing those off.) He couldn't believe that Gudrun and me had done all that stuff! (And yes, it was nice to get the belated credit.)

But, how, you may ask, did this last holiday go? Wonderfully. Really wonderfully. We barely mentioned Santa Claus. We did, however, spend a lot of time and energy finding, making and giving each other presents. Lots of hugs, lots of thanks. Okay, so there aren't so many faeries around the Durham household anymore, but there's that much more love and appreciation for each other.

So there's still magic.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!!!!

This was our family Holiday postcard this year - a Maya Calypso Durham design, of course. If you're reading this, consider yourself a recipient of the card and of our best wishes for the Holidays and the New Year!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Red Haired Woman

Call me a proud father. Every now and then one of Maya's drawings really stuns me. This is the latest to do so (And as you look, remember that Maya's just ten years old!):

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Fortnight +

My two week + adventure as a solo dad comes to a close today. We've made it. Pulled through. Have the same number of fingers and toes. Did lose one tooth, but that's legit. Oh, and I dropped our car keys in the snow down at Rattlesnake Gutter. (I'm not kidding.) Lost em. Maybe if we get a melt I'll go hunting for them. Good thing for spares.

The kids and I are now off to Logan to pick up mom and grandpa. Let the Holidays Begin!

Or... actually, let the end of semester grading, preparation for the Stonecoast MFA residency and seriously get into gear with Acacia 3 begin. Oh my. There's work to do.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Thank You Mr. Riordan

My kids have gone mad. They've turned into glazed-eyed zombies. They've shut out the physical world and ventured into a realm in which shouts, prods, invitations to dine and threats of punishment cannot reach them. What's caused this?

Rick Riordan and his creation Percy Jackson. They're the culprits. Because of them my kids have spent the last three weeks inhaling tales of Greek gods run amuck in the modern world. It's been wild, and very cool to watch.

My kids have always had books read to them. Pretty much everyday of their lives, starting with picture books and then early chapter books, and then stuff like Harry and Eragon and Kay Meyer's series. They've listened to tons of audiobooks, and Maya (age 10) has been reading on her own for awhile now, starting with Lily Quench series, into the Mistmantle Chronicles and Varjak Paw (one of her favorites). But there's something about Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series that clicked for them in a different way.

Perhaps part of it is that Sage (age 8) is right there behind her, sharing the same series with her. Sage was somewhat more hesitant coming to reading. He still remembers and talks about when he feared he'd never be a very good reader. We're homeschooling them, but we make sure to check the school curriculum to see what they'd be doing in school. Looking at the books he'd be reading in school this fall was a bit depressing. They didn't look very... interesting, fun, challenging. They looked dead boring, really. I'm sure that's not the case in total, but it was the impression that we walked away from - and I think it's the impression Sage himself had.

Fast forward a few months, put a book in his hands that 1) he sees his sister enjoying and 2) is filled with action and adventure and 3) he makes the breakthrough. He reads! He doesn't even notice that the series is for 6th to 9th graders, while he's the equivalent of a 3rd grader! He just devours the rather large books like he's starving and they're just the food he's been dreaming about.

Which I guess they are, really.

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Monday, October 26, 2009


I know I should get back to publishing related posts, and I will soon. But considering the day I can't help post another Durham family related photo. We took this photo yesterday on a nice walk (Maya handling the camera.) That's me and Gudrun, of course. I post it today because this is our 13th wedding anniversary!

Feels like no time at all...


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anybody Seen This Woman?

I'm just wondering because it's starting to seem like she's famous. The woman in question is, of course, my wife Gudrun. She's a knitwear designer and the talent behind the increasingly popular The Shetland Trader blog.

Things have been going well with her blog for a little while now, but recently her designs have really taken off, with people from all over the place buying her patterns and talking them up on the internet. Not only does she get mobbed at fiber-related conventions, but nowadays she's getting recognized... on the street in Northampton... in the checkout line at Whole Foods (which happened today)... in random places wherein people come up and say, "I just had to say how much I love your designs" or "Can I take a picture with you?"

I'm not sure that I can claim to be the celeb of the family anymore...

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Monday, October 12, 2009

The Case Of The Three Butter Pats

I've been wondering about something that happened last weekend. Small thing. Definitely a small thing, but it stuck in my craw a bit..

We'd had friends over from Scotland for about two weeks. (That's not the part that stuck in my craw. That was good fun.) Last weekend, at the end of their stay, we drove over to Gloucester to spend a couple days by the sea. We went out for a big seafood dinner. All was going well. Meal was great. Our waiter was very professional, like a career service dude, very courteous. We ordered appetizers, three lobsters, two other main dishes, beer and wine. We were giving them good business, I'd say.

Toward the end, though, I got a bright idea. We were staying in a self-catering bungalow. We'd bought some stuff for breakfast, but we didn't have any butter. I thought, "Hey, they'll have a couple pats of butter to spare here at the restaurant, right?" So I explained the situation and asked the waiter if he bring us a few.

That's when things got strange. The waiter sort of got stiff, went a little awkward, didn't meet my eyes. He said, "I'll have to see what I can do about that." When he left I glanced around the table. Everyone agreed that something weird had just happened.

Meal continues. Got a little dessert. And as we're getting ready for the check the waiter asks how many pats of butter I wanted. I said, "Oh, three will do. Just to makes some eggs and toast tomorrow." He asks if that's really all I want. I say yes. Just three will do fine.

So now I'm thinking things aren't that weird after all. Musta just been me, right?

Well, when he brings out the bill he brings out a little sandwich box and says, kinda under his breath, "I put six in here cause I had to charge you a dollar."

I almost said, "What? A dollar? No, forget it, then. I didn't want to buy them. I just figured..." But the others at the table silenced me with mollifying words and gestures. I wasn't paying anyway, so I accepted it, grumpy and annoyed, but silent. When we left I opened the box and took the three pats I'd asked for, left the others. At the time this felt like a weighted gesture, heavy with import. Now I'm not so sure.

I am, however, still convinced that it would have been perfectly reasonable and easy for the guy to slide us three pats of butter without charge. More so because we'd been good customers, and that it would be the final icing on his earning a nice tip from us too. Am I wrong, though? Did I cross some line that nobody told me about? The don't ask for free butter line?

Please advise.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Day Two RE The Computer Looks A Bit Brighter

I've said it before, but I gotta say again that I'm a pretty big fan of the way Apple does things. Case in point...

After I posted yesterday I got a call from another guy at the Apple Store. He said he wanted to try some more things, and wasn't convinced the drive was totally shot. He kept the recovery program running all night, and then called me first thing in the morning. It still didn't look good, but he had another idea and said he'd be happy to keep working on it.

So, he called back again later in the morning. It looks like he's going to be able to retrieve stuff after all. It'll be a bit scrambled, but he thinks he'll be able to get photos, jpegs and other files back. And he thinks the harddrive will be functional afterwards also, so we may be able to swipe it clean and use it for backups. I should know for sure by the end of the day.

We'll be very happy if it works out this way. Yes, you might ask, but how much is all this costing me? And then I would smile knowingly and say, "Nada. Zilch. Nothing." (I probably wouldn't really say that, but I'd think it.) I even asked the guy why he was doing all this if they weren't going to charge me. He said it's because they like to do what they can, and the store isn't super busy so why not?

Nice. They'll have my business for a long time, I think.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ah Well, It Wasn't All Bad...

This morning started off so nicely. I had such plans. A few student stories to read, an interview for Amazon to finish up, a bit of time working with Maya on decimals, maybe even some time writing fiction: that sort of stuff. We Durham's took an early morning walk down to the lake, feeling all crisp and fall-like, getting into a routine, you know?

Came back to the house, gave one of the cats a quick bath. (Fleas, you see.) Gudrun and the kids got set up at the big table in the living room for a homeschooling morning, and I headed to the office to be productive. For about ten minutes, all was good.

And then a sudden burst of Scottish-inflected profanity came roaring through the wall. I jumped up, thinking something small might have broken, assuming an overreaction was quite possibly in play. What did I find? Well, it was a small thing. It was the combination of a glass of water and the backside of a pretty darn new MacBook. It was fizzing and popping sounds, and then loss of power to said MacBook. Gudrun had been working along with the kids when one of them (perhaps better left unnamed) brushed the glass over with a careless arm. And that was that.

New direction to the entire day. You may know that among other things Gudrun is a knitwear designer and blogger - see The Shetland Trader. Her computer is very important to her, full of patterns finished and in the works, photographs, all sorts of other stuff. We got right on the phone to the Apple Store and the whole family was in the car ten minutes later, driving the 45 mins down to Holyoke for help.

And help we got. The folks at the Apple Store were very nice, even as they told us that the computer was completely and righteously screwed. They ran all sorts of tests, and even sent us home with our soggy harddrive in the care of one of their machines, trying to see if anything could be salvaged from it. This actually took the entire day, and by the time we arrived home we learned the final news. No. Nothing. The harddrive was damaged enough that it's not worth it trying to get anything off it. So that's that.

I know in the grand scheme of things it's no big deal, but it's still one of those moments when one second things are fine, the next the smallest little action has changed things quite a bit. How did we deal with it? Well, with swift action that leaves me scratching my head just as much as the time four months ago when we bought two computers, two iPod Touches and Nintendo Wii in the same day.

1) We bought a new MacBook. Exactly like the old one, just without all that pesky personal data and hard work on it. (We actually did this while still at the store, knowing that the computer itself was dead, but that maybe we'd be able to salvage the harddrive and connect it to the new computer. No, we didn't just have $1,000 sitting around.)

2) We got beer, some clams and a lobster. (And no, we never get lobster. So why choose to do it when we've just spent $1,000 that wasn't sitting around? Maybe one thing leads to the other...)

3) We clicked over to John Scalzi's WHATEVER and checked out the post featuring The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) and me in The Big Idea Series. Please see for yourself HERE.

And with that the day drew to a close.

Ah well, it wasn't all bad...

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Maya and Sage's Book Recommendations

A while back some kind person asked if I had suggestions for books that I thought were especially good for kids. I figured the best source to reference were my own kids, so I asked them.

Maya (10) and Sage (8) came up with the following list. It starts with picture books and moves forward up to the stuff they’re reading now.

The Gruffalo,by Julia Donaldson
Pumpkin Soup, by Helen Cooper
Where's My Mom?,
Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson
I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato (Charlie & Lola), by Lauren Child
Catwings (4 Volume Set), by Ursula K LeGuin
Hachiko Waits, by Leslea Newman
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread, by Kate DiCamillo
Dragon Rider, Cornelia Caroline Funke
Varjak Paw, by SF Said
The Outlaw Varjak Paw, by SF Said
Amazing Story Of Adolphus Tips, by Michael Morpurgo
Pirate Curse (The Wave Walkers Book One), by Kai Meyer
Stardust, by Neal Gaiman (Yeah, they read the saucy stuff too.)

At the moment, Maya is reading Keys to the Kingdom, by Garth Nix. Sage is reading
Redwall (Redwall, Book 1), by Brian Jacques.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. But these are the titles that came to mind when I asked.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Maya and Persy

Excuse me for a moment, but I have another family thing to mention.

For those who are interested in birthdays and kittens and happy kids... please take a look at The Shetland Trader.

For those of you NOT interested in such things, feel free to ignore this post.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Over At The Shetland Trader...

...Gudrun (my wife - pictured headless) has a new knitwear design up on her blog. It's called the Aestlight Shawl and it's supremely cool.

It's sort of a lacy shawl, but it's not frilly. It's got a slightly more durable quality to it. I'm glad to say sales have been brisk. People like it. If you knit or know anyone that does you might dig it to. Check it out HERE.

Actually, visiting her site reminded me that she put up a couple of posts with pictures about our move. If you're interested in her take on it you can check out Countdown or Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy Jig.


Friday, June 26, 2009

An Update

Housing Situation:

Floors sanded. Check.

One coat of varnish down. Check.

Varnished dried? Er... Not so check.

We did it yesterday. It's supposed to take 4 hours to dry. 24 hours later it's glistening and moist, not a sign of dryness to be seen. I reckon it's the humidity here in MA at the moment. The air is basically liquid, and it seems just scientifically impossible to dry floor varnish in such conditions. To make things worse, we just received our POD full of our household stuff from CA. That's great, of course, but the scene here is rather absurd...

Boards spread across the wet floor, David sloshing back and forth to the container carrying boxes and table legs and printers, etc, cats miserable because we're keeping them outside in the rain to keep them off the floors, kids oblivious because they're having too much fun... I'd take pictures, but I've got work to do.

Professional Situation:

Ah... You guys know I quit my day job, right? How very strange of me. I left it for a house in the woods to write books. And now... I'm settling in to that house in the woods to write books. Kinda scary; kinda wonderful. Either way, I'm happy to say that I believe I'm close to announcing another bit of book news. I'll let know when I know for sure.


Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Boy's Best Day Ever (Imagined)

When I was in France doing French fantasy things I had this bit of paper with me that I kept looking at. It was mixed in with my travel details and conference information and various telephone numbers and stuff. It was a short essay written in my son's unsteady handwriting, called "My Perfect Day". Herewith, I offer it to you, typed, of course, but otherwise unaltered...


I would get up and take a morning stroll through the woods (1) with my beardy (2) and my dog (3), my cats.

When I get back I would build some Star Wars Legos.

Then I would go and ride a black stallion called Orca (4).

When I get back it is time for lunch.


I would have burritos for lunch and then we would play a game of Carcassonne.

When we were done with our game I would play Star Wars Legos (5).

When I was done on the computer we would go down to Lake Wyola (6) to swim.


When we get back we some sushi and fish pie and then I would go to sleep (7).


1). By 'woods' he doesn't mean Fresno, because... ah... I don't think we have anything called woods here. Sure, when you come through the airport they have big murals of giant sequoias, but don't be fooled. Those are wee drive away, at an altitude gain of 7,000 feet or so. Local? Yes, but a little context doesn't hurt. No, by "woods" Sage means one of the two places he's most familiar with walking in the woods, Western Massachusetts or rural Scotland.

2). "Beardy" refers to a bearded dragon. Sage decided a while back that he wanted to get one, and he's been saving his money ever since. So, perhaps once we're back in Massachusetts...

3). We don't have a dog, but...

4). I'm not familiar with this creature.

5). Hey, it's his perfect day. Star Wars Legos have a big part in it. In this case, though, he actually means a Lego computer game...

6). This would be the lake near us in Massachusetts, about a five minute walk away from the house.

7). Sage has thoughtfully included both my culinary specialty - sushi - and his mother's - fish pie. I assure you they're both marvelous, but we don't usually have them on the same day. This, however, is a perfect day, so all bets are off.

And thats it.

You know what I like about this perfect day? That I could make it happen. That it's not so different than a normal day. The black stallion named Orca might be a bit tricky, but the rest of it...

Well, he's kinda described our life. (Or, the life we'll have back again in about three weeks, when we arrive back in Massachusetts.)

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Something to Believe In

In preparation for our move back east this summer, we've started to pack up a few boxes. Light work, just this and that every day or so. It's hard not to come across things of interest, nostalgia-making, etc. I won't punish you with too much of this, but there was this...

Gudrun just found a journal that she kept, all too briefly, when Maya was little and we were still living in Scotland. It recounts how she was out walking with Maya one day. Maya asked who made the sky. Gudrun gave a rather long, detailed lecture on the various possibilities. She moved into religious territory and - as Gudrun is not particularly comfortable in this region - she said that Maya could choose to believe what felt right to her when she is older.

Maya had a ready answer for this. She said: "I want to believe in cookies."

Got any similar child-related stories? Or favorite things to believe in?

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sage's Poem

This is slightly belated, since Sage's birthday was last month. But I've just found something I wanted to share with you lot. It's the poem my father in law wrote for my son. I'll put this up here, and then eventually move it over to the correct day for the archives.

Laughton did a poem for my daughter, Maya, as well, which you can read here. When he wrote Maya's poem he did so in the days just after her birth. It's a lovely poem, but it was written before he actually knew the person that baby would grow into. Sage's poem was written some years after his birth, when he had very much taken on his own personality and discovered his own interests. That's what's reflected in this poem, and I think it's rather special.


Sage the lion cub
Sharp as a claw
Strong as sinew
Fast as fury

Sage the Humongous
Angel of Africa
Child of the Caribbean
Son of Caledonia
Brother of Beowulf

Sage the Sagacious
Houdini of Haggle
Fount of Rigamarole
Prince of Penultimate

Sage the Silent
Sage the Ear-splitter
Sage the Deaf
Sage the Charming

Sage the Jedi
Warrior of Aslan
Captain of Gryffindor
King of Karate

Aw man!

J Laughton Johnston
Shutesbury Xmas 2005

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Fresno Flower

For today, one of my wife's recent photos, a bit of beauty found in Fresno...


Thursday, March 05, 2009

My Seven Year Old Gets It

Last night I took on the task of explaining the economic crisis to my daughter and son. I choose a lecture format, with the kids standing in front of me as I discoursed on lending practices, the virtues and perils of credit, the need for responsible decision making. Lots of fun stuff. Metaphors in abundance.

I talked for about a half hour before my son suddenly leaped into the air, excited, chopping the air with his hand as he smile demoniacally. Was he attacking me? Had he lost it completely? Was he in revolt?

No. He'd GOTTEN it. He'd figured out what the frick I was talking about! He wasn't just cutting me off either. He seemed genuinely pleased to discover his father wasn't talking utter, mind-numbing jibberjabber.

I was well pleased. (And now they have no excuse for racking up massive credit debt - like their parents once did.)

Now, for tonight's lecture..

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Surprise

Here in the Durham household we don't watch a lot of tv. When we have in recent days I feel like I've been beat over the head by those teddy bear or lingerie commercials. I have issues with these ads for a variety of reasons, not least because of the things they insinuate about women (that a hastily purchased gift will trick them into feeling loved, happy and horny) and the way they ask me to be one of the guys (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

I'm not one of the guys. Maybe I'd be happier if I was, but I'm just not. My wife doesn't want a teddy bear. I don't even think my daughter wants a teddy bear. I just don't get teddy bears, to be honest. And my wife's pajamas are perfectly fine. We're okay, really. We do a pretty good job of demonstrating that we love each other by the way we live our lives every day. At least, I think we do. (What's the Valentine's equivalent of "Bah Humbug"?)

Considering all of this, we weren't expecting much of a celebration of the holiday at all. Hence our surprise when woke up to find these on the table waiting for us...

The kids completely ignored our crotchety grumbling, made us Valentine's Day cards, and then woke up some time during the night and set them out on the table for us. Maya is nine. Sage is seven. They did this completely without prompting from either of us. I'm a bit stunned.

Sage's card was a jaunty wish for good things on the day. Maya went a little further, though. She wrote poems for both of us. Mine goes as follows...

To My Dearest Dad

You are like
an artist drawing.
A flower in a vase
or a single shell on the beach.
There is nothing just quite like you
or as special.

A mountain of love,
from Maya.

Pretty cool, huh? I think my daughter just taught me something...


Friday, January 30, 2009

The Detective Cat

Does this guy look slick or what?He's called The Detective Cat and he's one of several of my daughter's new prints, available for viewing at Maya Calypso Durham Talks.

I don't know about you, but I want to know this guy's story. He kinda looks like he's working undercover or something...

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Prez

If you know me you'll probably know I'm full of emotion today. Good ones. The kind that make my eyes water and the world go all squiggly. I'd try to blame it on the head cold I have right now, but that's not it. It's the fact that we have a new president, one that I remain amazed and inspired by. It's all too big and too multifaceted to talk about in depth. So let me just relate a small thing...

I've been trying to figure out why my kids are so amazingly happy about our new president. My son, Sage, said something to the effect that he couldn't believe we elected a black president in his life time. He's 7. Some of it, of course, is him reflecting back my enthusiasm, but there's more to it than that. Last night I woke up in the middle of the night and realized another part of it.

When I was a kid in school I was always aware of the disconnect between the rhetoric of America and the reality. I heard that all men were created equal, and yet I knew from very early on that the words were true in a way our actualizing of them wasn't. All men were created equal, but not women. All men were created equal and had rights, oh but not black folks, not brown folks, not really. It was like there were two different dialogs going on the room. The teacher would say, "In America, anyone can grow up to be president". He'd smile and carry on talking, but each time it was like a separate, ghostly image detached itself, turned and spoke to me, saying, "Well, not you. Anyone, but not you. You understand that, right?" And then that ghost teacher would merge back with his/herself and carry on with the fine words, sure that they could be spoken with complete sincerity - and sure that a black kid like me really did understand that the words weren't entirely for me, not without clauses and footnotes and exceptions.

I felt that for all of my almost forty years, from what I experienced in life and from what I learned of the history of this nation. But I knew it as much as a child of 7 or 9 as I did as a father of children those ages. In many ways, it was a more savage knowledge then. It was part of the reason that my childhood was never as complete a childhood as one might hope for. There were never truly many days of innocence, because there was always that ghost-voice reminding me not to get my hopes up too high, not to confuse rhetoric with reality, not to forget that it really is a "white" house, after all. I'm sure that many, many people, whether because of race or gender or religion or sexual orientation or many other factors, live lives with their own versions of this disconnect...

Anyway, that was my childhood, my adulthood, and it's probably in my blood enough that I'll be surprised at Barack Obama's rise to the presidency over and over again for years to come. When I look at my kids this morning, though, it really does feel like they plucked a weight off and flicked it away on their fingers. Yes, of course they'd felt the weight too. I did. Why wouldn't they? But that was before today. Now, they live in a world were a mixed-race (African-American) person can be the most powerful person in the world. I think that changes everything for them. It changes how they see themselves. It changes how they see me...

Thank you for that, Mr. President. And good luck with the work to come. Lord knows I wouldn't actually want your job. It surely won't be a walk on the beach. Still, I'm glad you did, and glad you got it.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bridge of Allan

Left Shetland a couple days ago. Spent a few with family in Aberdeenshire. As I write this it's late night in Bridge of Allan. Must be to bed. Tomorrow I fly from Glasgow back to the US. Not to home, though. Not to home. Work calls...


Friday, December 26, 2008


...was rather wonderful here in Sandness.

The kids were bubbling with excitement. The adults were all on good terms. (An important component to any holiday, yes?)

We began the morning with champagne and strawberries, Nat King Cole and marmite & melted cheese on toast.

The presents were thoughtful and often handmade. Santa delivered small treasures. We took the standard Christmas walk along a rugged coastline.

The food was lovely but not a display of belly swelling excess. The drink was varied and plentiful. We enjoyed a new episode of Wallace & Gromit, and just missed a special episode of Dr. Who (the only bummer moment of the day).

And the evening concluded with a rousing episode of "The Shetland Dance Off", a competition of interpretive dance featuring a selection of eclectic tunes. Maya and Sage were the primary competitors, each with several guises with decidely different personalities. We had a panel of celebrity judges, featuring members of the Irish clergy alongside Scottish former stars, etc. The show was hosted by D-Squared, a silver-tongued and easily impressed veteran of such competitions. And yes, the entire things was captured on video!

And, no, not a chance I'll be posting that here!

I do hope the day (or the Holiday Season in general) has/is going well for you also.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Yesterday in the comments section of another post I mentioned that my brother in law was making kedgeree for dinner. Not sure if this is a familiar dish for everyone, but as it was so bloody good I had to say a bit more about it. Wikipedia defines it thusly...

Kedgeree (or occasionally kitcherie, kitchari or kitchiri) is a dish consisting of flaked fish (usually smoked haddock), boiled rice, eggs and butter. The dish originated from Scotland and was taken to India by Scottish troops during the Brisith Raj, where it was adapted and adopted as part of Indian cuisine.

I define it as supremely yummy.

By the way, you'll forgive me, won't you, if my posts for the next little bit are decidedly family, food, drink and holiday oriented, right? I hope so, cause that's the vibe I'm riding at the moment. I hope you are too.

Here's a recipe, should you wish to try this at home, and here's the man himself, on the move in the kitchen...

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Monday, December 22, 2008

21 Seals

I wish that I'd taken the camera with me. I actually walked out of the cottage with it, Maya and Sage just behind me, to take a walk and snap some pics. We only got as far as the shed, though, before ducking in for cover from the falling rain. From inside the shed I snapped this photo of my son, Sage...

But then I left the camera in the shed so we could complete our daily expedition into the wilds of Shetland. (It's a nice camera, and it was pelting down.) Five minutes later, we approached the beach of the little inlet not far from the house. There were tons of seals lounging about the stony beach. As we walked down to say hi, they all belly rolled into the water and then promptly turned around and hung about twenty yards off shore, watching us.

That's when I wished I had the camera. There was something both really cool and kinda unsettling about being watched by a bunch of submerged mammals. I counted 21 heads, all staring right at us. Cool. Your average sight in Shetland, though. It would be much harder to fine 21 people within a five minute walk from the cottage...

Next time I'll keep the camera tucked under my rain jacket.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008


I'm happy to finally be able to say that I am safely in Shetland, reunited with my family after three months! Here's a quick pic of me and wife...

Yes, it is incredibly windy, with dramatic, ever-changing skies, and it's just as treeless as I remember. And the sheep haven't gotten any smarter. No worries, though. The cottage is cozy, filled with family, with both a peat and a coal stove, with broadband and tons of books and art and music, and even with a hi-tec projector and screen for watching films (Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E first up).

We're off to do some shopping just now in Lerwick, hoping that the ferry made it in this morning. The seas were quite rough last night, and if the boat doesn't make it across it means no fresh food! Ah, island life...

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm Almost Here...

Monday, December 08, 2008

December Light

Here's my Shetland pic for the day, stolen from my wife's blog. Can you tell I'm thinking about my coming trip a bit?

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Friday, December 05, 2008

And the Father-In-Law Responds!

Okay, folks, for all of you that helped suggest sci/fi and fantasy titles for my father-in-law (and those that may have watched with passing interest) here's the verdict. Yes, I just heard back from Laughton, and figured I might as well share his response, especially as this has been a collaborative effort. Here's what he wrote...

I clearly did not know what I was asking of you! I'm overwhelmed, by the time and thoughtfulness that you and all your correspondents have put into this and... by my ignorance of modern fantasy and sc-fi. You know I read a lot but this is literally (in both senses) another world.

I am pleased to say that I have read one of the suggestions... Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, probably in the early 70s. When I discovered the joys of the A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy for the children I went on to read everything of hers that I could get. Lately, her writing took on the later style and topics of Doris Lessing's 'fantasy' (although the latter has moved on/back again) and she no longer appeals to me.

My choices from your list may well then be a little conservative (I am getting old). The last thing I want is to settle down (perhaps that's stretching it a bit) on the long flights and restless airport lounges and find that the thick book with the crisp pages is not to my taste!

Robert Heinlen's Stranger in a Strange Land is appealing, probably for nostalgic reasons... I read masses of sci-fi in the late 5
0s, 60s and 70s. Less of Heinlen than I thought when I look at the shelves; they seem to contain more John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Azimov, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert etc (just name-dropping). I wonder how many of your correspondents have read A Voyage to Arcturus by the Scottish writer David Lindsay (who died fairly young)? So, Heinlen would be stepping back rather than forward...

I have my eye on a couple of recommendations, partly based (I was going to say 'mostly' but that might worry you) on your comments; I have a great respect for you judgement!

But the others...

A Game of Thrones by R R Martin sounds like a big boy's read. I think I will have to graduate to that. Maybe when I get home in January, when the nights are still long and dark and it's blowing a gale out there, I will take the plunge. No, not maybe, let's not be too tentative and timid here... I will go for this in the new year.

Richard Morgan's Thirteen/Black Man... hhmmm. The 'over-sexed' comment puts me off. Not that I would under-rate sex, but in one's late 60s I'm looking for subtlety.

Dan Simmons' Ilium? I guess I will just leave this for the reasons you know. Like I know the story of Franklin so well... incidentally, it was an Orkney man, John Rae, who first brought the news of the horror of the fate of Franklin's men, and one of his few companions was a Shetland man. Lady Franklin also makes a brief appearance in a book of mine. I felt the 'actual' story was scary enough.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson, The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf and Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, I will keep on my list for later.

I suspect I will be raising a few hackles with my very short and dismissive comments, but what do we all do when faced with so many choices?

China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. With a title like that, it sounds quite intriguing. Plus your 'bloody good read' comment. I am tempted here. Likewise, I am tempted by your comments on Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton. These I might try later along with, or before, RR Martin. So, they are sort of third/fourth choices.

I am going to take two then. Did you intentionally/unintentionally put them in order of your own preferences? (No you didn't did you! You put them in alphabetical order so as to appear completely unbiased...)

However, I am going to take your first two. Second choice is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Not because he is British writer but because it sounds frighteningly contemporary. Tell me if my hunch is way wrong.

The one that I instantly went for, though I am not sure why, is Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. On second thoughts, perhaps because I see that the author is a black woman whom I would hope might bring some fresh perspectives. Or am I the marketing man's dream who simply picks the first shiny one on offer? Like the previous book, there is a contemporary feel to it which attracts me... and... you liked it.

So thanks to you all and forgive me for my many presumptions... I'll let you know!

Thanks, David,


And just so you know who has been talking, here's a photo of the man himself (along with his youngest daughter - and my wife).

Okay. Works for me. Butler and Gaiman. They both rock. I do hope you'll have both of them with you, Laughton, just in case either doesn't do it for you.

Octavia Butler is... well, she's the first sci/fi writer to get a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, isn't she? (Jonathan Lethem scooped one more recently. As far as I could tell, he bought really suave new glasses with the cash.) I know pretentious literary prizes aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I wouldn't say no to $500,000 "Out of the Blue", with no strings attached, just for being... geniusy. And, yes, in many ways Ms. Butler's racial identity informs her writing. She would've been brilliant anyway, but she has a wide, empathetic perspective that I'm quite sure was influenced by the particular details of the skin she lived her life in.

And, yes, Gaiman does strike me as "frighteningly contemporary", at least in reference to American Gods. Neither author is one that I assume everyone will like, but both have a measure of brilliance that I'd encourage anyone to at least try. Notes on two other titles... I finished The Dreaming Void recently. Liked it very much, although as I rounded the last hundred pages or so I got to suspecting there wasn't going to be much in the way of resolution at the end. I wasn't wrong. Mr. Hamilton wraps things up like a professional, but this is clearly just the beginning of this particular story. And Perdido Street Station got another celebrity shout out recently - John Scalzi spoke of it as one of his favorite books on several occasions at LosCon. As we all know, Mr. Scalzi is a very smart guy.

Okay, I think that brings the "Help Me Pick a Book For My Father-in-Law" segment of this blog to a close. Thanks for playing. In closing... I'm curious. Anyone read A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay?

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A Shetland Moment

I'll say a word or two about LosCon soon, but I just got home and noticed a recent post on my wife's blog. Just some pictures of Shetland, really, but I find them quite stunning. I'll be over there soon myself.

Beautiful. Kinda heartbreaking to have not been part of it for the last couple of months. How weird.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

I Need Suggestions...

A little help here, please. Yesterday my father in law asked me for a recommendation of a good sci-fi or fantasy book. He's heading to New Zealand for Christmas (to enjoy the summering sun with his other daughter's family) and he fancies reading a big book, something to get lost in. No, I can't recommend anything of mine, cause he's read all of them. (I'd like to think, actually, that Acacia sort of planted the seed for this query.)

Some context first. My father is Scottish, a Shetlander who lives in that lovely wee cottage I've posted photos of so often. This one...

Yes, it's bloody isolated, but it's isolated in a good way. Inside, it's filled with books and art and letters and photos from his far-flung family. He reads really widely, and is looking for something to rival Dune... See my dilemma? How do you rival Dune? I can't point him toward an OK book. It can't be light on substance. It's got to be a gem.

The weird thing is that as enthusiastic a proponent of the genre(s) as I am, I'm having a hard time settling on a book. I keep thinking of ones I love, but then there's always something that makes me think twice about it. Hence, this call for suggestions.

So, on my shortlist so far are...

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

A Game of Thrones
, by GRRM

The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson

Is it one of these I should go with, or something else I'm not thinking of right now?...

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Twist Collective

I can't help it. I'm just in a linky sort of mood. And things keep coming in... This one is on the family front. My wife (knitwear designer Gudrun Johnston) just had a pattern published in Twist Collective. That link goes to a picture of the sweater on a model. It does kinda blow my mind that Gudrun not only knits things like this, but she designs (and writes the patterns) for them. Cool...

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Sunday, November 02, 2008


I'm post dating this. Just got back online and saw this photo of my kids heading out to their Halloween celebration. Geez. They look awesome. Sorry to have missed this one. Christmas. Christmas...

My witch daughter and Viking son...

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where The Family Has Been Recently...

So, you know my family is in a land far far away. No, not that place. They've been in Shetland, staying with my father in law. Recently, though, they took a trip back to the mainland, where they were awed by things like trees. Gudrun took a few snaps, as she quite likes to do. I thought I'd offer a few for your visual stimulation.

This is near Dunkeld and Birnam, in Perthshire...
These are just some leaves...
And a tree... (The girl isn't mine, but she's a lovely family friend.)Flowers...
This is is the River Tay as it approaches Dunkeld. We used to live in Dunkeld, and I wrote quite a bit of Pride of Carthage while strolling along this river...
The kids out with a cousin for a walk in Aberdeenshire....
And then! Then they returned to Shetland. Just in time, too, for the seas soon churned up a gale...

In case you're wondering. Yes, I'm still working on the book. It's getting juicy. (In a "Man, readers are gonna hate you, Mr. Cliffhanger" type of way.) I'm fatigued, but I'm also nearly at the point where I type in "The Hell With It..."

Wait, no, that's not it. I meant where I type "The End". It's coming soon. Less than 24 hours away... Actually, I've got more like 12 hours left...

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another Day in Shetland

Are you kidding me?
That's my father in law's cottage again. My wife assures me that all I have to do is come on over. Our money problems are solved! The pot of gold, apparently, is right in the cottage, just next to the peat-stove, beside the wee table and the waiting dram of Lagavulin...

Think I should believe her?

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