Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Solution to Dirty Dancing at School Dances

We had an article in our local newspaper the other day reporting that local school officials were at wit's end at how to deal with 'dirty' dancing at school dances.

According to a report in the Skagit Valley Herald:

One Mount Vernon High School dance chaperone says the current dance craze, called “grinding,” looks to her as if students are having “sex with their clothes on,” and she’s tired of looking the other way.
“Every kid was either dancing like that or not at all,” said Carolyn Nichols, 49. “The kids who weren’t brave enough to dance like that were standing in circles talking.”

The article goes on to say that most county schools have forbidden suggestive dancing and have also threatened to stop having dances if it continues to be a problem. The article indicates that the problem is widespread in the country.

As the title of my blog indicates, I have a solution: teach the kids something different. Give them an alternative.

Since the 1960's--just after I got out of my teens--our culture has ceased to pass down our dances as part of our lore. Knowing the basic dances helped us out socially during the difficult teen years by giving us a way of interacting where we knew the ropes.

As a Native New Mexican, I not only learned the waltz, foxtrot and swing, but also the specialty dances like Cotton Eyed Joe, Put Your Little Foot and the Schottish. I was taught the dances by my parents and grandparents.

What's wrong with teaching recreational dance in P.E.? I think it's more important than pickleball.

I had this revelation this last weekend when I attended a Traditional Jazz Festival at Oceanside Oregon. Most of the people who attend these festivals have gray hair, like me. We grew up on this music, and we love to dance to it.

However, over the last few years, I've noticed more and more young people coming to dance. We call them the Lindy Hoppers, because they come to practice the Lindy Hop. There's a group from Seattle and one from Vancouver BC that come to the northwest jazz festivals. They begin dancing at ten a.m. on Saturday morning, and they're still going strong when the last band has played, thirteen hours later. Four year ago there might have been half a dozen Lindy Hoppers at the festival. This year, I judged there to be about a hundred.

The beautiful thing about it was the cross-generational connection. Young and old were sharing the same dance floor, grooving to the same music.

I've posted a couple of videos I shot of the dancing at one of the venues at ten a.m. The Lindy Hoppers follow different bands, and these were dancing to High Sierra at one of the smaller venues. One is slower, the other is up-tempo.

Here's what I've noticed as I've watched these young people dance:

  • There's lots of camaraderie among them. They change partners lots, making sure everyone gets a chance to dance. The more experienced dance with those who haven't yet completely clued in. Over the years I've noticed how several two-left-feeters have miraculously grown an opposing right foot. It's because of the coaching they got from their peers.
  • These kids are tremendously fit. Look at the videos. Each band plays an hour-and-a-quarter set. There are fifteen minutes between sets. The Lindy hoppers dance solid all day long.
  • These dances are not suggestive. There's lots of finesse, lots of inventiveness, to them, lots of athleticism, but sex with clothes on? No.
  • The kids have gone beyond learning just the Lindy Hop. One of the bands played a waltz and the dance floor (this was a very large one at the biggest venue) quickly filled up with senior citizens twirling around the room. But I also noticed about half of the Lindy Hoppers were twirling around, too. It was a beautiful moment.

I know there are those who would say that the kids wouldn't want to have a dance class in P.E. Well, I don't know. What I'm seeing with the Lindy Hoppers seems to be a ground swell, a grass roots thing. I think the kids may be hungry for that kind of knowledge: a truly American dance form danced to truly American music. A dance form that says, this is who I am. This is part of my heritage, part of my American lore.


Follow this blog! I promise to quit philosophizing and post how to cook a healthy fried egg, soon. And I want to talk about swans and SWANs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Parenting Tip #2 - Time Out for Difficult Children

Before I share this particular parenting tip with you, we need to define what I mean by a 'difficult child.' Being a novelist, I can't do that without telling a story, so here goes.

In the late1960's my husband and I and our two sweet children lived in the Los Angeles area. We had a struggling business, so to take up the economic slack, I taught for several years in an elementary school that was located in a poverty pocket in an otherwise middle-class city. My own children attended the school where I taught, and each evening as we would drive home, I would grieve for the circumstances of my students.

My husband and I talked it over, and we decided if the opportunity arose, we would adopt an 'unadoptable' child, one that wouldn't have a chance for a happy, middle-class existence. It was to be our little mite at saving the world, one child at a time.

We were terribly naive. But, as often happens to simpletons, we got lucky. Or, at least, we got our wish. Before the year was out, we had another child. She was seven, had been a foster child for the five years since she was wrested from her negligent mother, and had been in several homes already. A fellow teacher had taught her in head start, and that's how I found out she needed a home.

This daughter came to us with a small paper bag of clothes but trunks, suitcases and duffle bags of emotional baggage. However, we wobbled along, thinking that love and structure would conquer all.

Love and structure conquered a lot. In fact, about five years later, things were going along so well that we thought we might try another rent-a-kid. We had a family council and talked it over, and the kids agreed. The state adoption worker kissed us on both cheeks and presented us with a seven year old boy.

The fact that he went to day classes at the regional mental hospital should have told us something, but his foster mother said he was teachable. Knowing that love and structure could conquer all, and having had success with our first rental, we said we'd take him. So we did.

And, it wasn't too bad. He was a sweet boy. He brought a suitcase full of clothes and a bicycle when he came, but the emotional baggage he brought was immense. He was the result of a fling his mother had with another man. She didn't leave her husband, and she waited until this son was six to give him up (there were five other siblings). During those six years he had landed in the hospital twice with parent-inflicted injuries. One day she simply took him to DSHS and said she didn't want him any more.

So, we wobbled along with that addition, too. Love and structure, you see, will conquer all, and I was the master of structure. My husband, Derrill, called me The Commandant. Sometimes the structure came easier than the love.

By the time a year had rolled around, things were going so well that we started thinking we were wonderful. We had the magic touch. Love and Structure R Us. Let's have another kid, only let's get one a little younger this time.

In no time at all we had a three-and-a-half year old boy. The adoption worker, the same one who had brought us our previous child, felt he was meant to be ours, and we thought so too. He had brown eyes, curly hair, and a dossier two inches thick. We said we knew what we were in for. We were prepared. Love and structure, after all, etc., etc.

We had some pretty good years until puberty hit first one and then another and knocked the props out of our love and structure thing. The emotional baggage all spilled open and there was no way to get everything folded neatly and put away again.

Our saving grace was our old farmhouse. As sturdy as it was ugly, it had one beautiful thing about it: nine bedrooms. Each of our children (seven by the time I was making use of this parenting tip, because we had two surprise cabooses after our last adoption) had his/her own bedroom, so I was able to send whichever of the children was acting out to his room for a time out.

There was a problem, though. Quite a few of the bedrooms were in the basement. There was also a family room down there with a TV in it, and I found that several times when one of the boys was sent to his room, he would go downstairs, slam the door, then sneak out and watch TV until I sent word that he could come up again.

It made me so mad that I had the desire to screw the bedroom door shut, or at least put a dead bolt on it. As satisfying as that would have been, it wasn't safe, so I did the next best thing. I taped it shut.

Now, the tape didn't do anything to hold the door closed. It simply let me know if the door had been opened during the period of banishment. There was no more sneaking out, because there was no way he could get back into the room, close the door, and replace the tape.

I knew I was onto something when I arrived a little early to a family counseling session and heard our therapist telling another parent about this time-out technique. I had shared it with her several weeks before.

I know none of you have difficult children. But, if you know someone who does, they might like to add this to their bag of tricks. I've got others I'll share as the spirit moves me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Reckoning by Tanya Parker Mills - a Review

I was in grade school when a teacher introduced me to the idea that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Even my non-scientific mind was wakened to all sorts of possibilities, and a lively classroom discussion ensued. That was over fifty years ago, and I still remember it.

As I grow older—and I am growing older; has anyone noticed? As I grow older, I have begun to see that matter isn’t the only thing that hangs around forever. The consequences of our actions do, too. They reverberate through time and space and wash back to us at unexpected moments and in the oddest of places. It’s almost like a cosmic economy. The smallest action—a look or a word—can be carried in someone’s heart or memory, and, years later, you’ll find that a throwaway line you uttered had deep significance to that person, and you reap either satisfaction or shame, depending on the memory.

A variation on that idea is one of the themes of Tanya Parker Mills’ multiple-award-winning book The Reckoning. Set in the months just before America’s invasion of Iraq, it’s the story of Theresa Fuller, a journalist who lived in Iraq as a child and who sneaks across the northern border to write the story of Saddam Hussein’s humanitarian crimes against the Kurdish people. Captured, she is jailed as a spy.

Most of the book deals with Theresa’s time in prison and the privation and torture she endures there. Taut and beautifully written, it’s sometimes hard to read, but never dull and never unbelievable. It’s hard to read because we care about Theresa. Tanya Mills has done a good job of letting us know the realities of Abu Grabe when it was still in Iraqi hands (and there’s an irony!) without being unduly graphic.

Captain Tariq al-Awali, an Iraqi officer, is put in charge of Theresa’s imprisonment, and he becomes the only buffer between her and the cruel Colonel Badr’s repertoire of tortures. It is through her association with, and her growing attachment to, Captain al-Awali that Theresa learns a secret about her own father and, by extension, about herself. Cosmic economy reverberates through the last half of the book, echoing still on the very last page.

Tanya Mills writes what she knows. Her father worked for the United States Government, and she grew up overseas in Greece, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon. Did I already say The Reckoning is beautifully written? Wuuuuunderfully written. Tanya Parker Mills’ prose is the kind that a writer reads and thinks, “Why can’t I write like that?” The Reckoning was a 2008 Whitney Award finalist and a 2009 Indie Book Award winner.

I recommend The Reckoning most highly. It’s a window on the Iraqi people in the pre-Saddam era as well as a primer on how he came to power. But mostly, it’s a great story.

Check out the book trailer here. You can purchase The Reckoning on Amazon, either in hard copy or Kindle edition. Do it!
Follow this blog! I've got more reviews, interviews and recipes for you. I'm going to teach you how to do a healthy fried egg. Soon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Introduction to the Whitney Awards

As with most of the things I plan, when the time comes to execute my plan, I'm out of the mood, and what I thought would be fun or exciting has become a chore.

That's what has happened here. I was walking on air two days ago when I heard that my latest book, Counting the Cost, was a finalist for the Whitney Award, and I wanted to explain to the world about the Whitneys. However, I had said I would blog about pancakes on Saturday, so I put off sending up Whitney rockets.

Now I've come down to earth, and I realize that I have to exercise my brain in order to do what I've promised, and I'd lots rather go take my Sunday Afternoon Nap. However, here goes:

I belong to a writers' guild called LDStorymakers. To belong to this guild, you have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and be a published author. With online email loops and writers' conferences, this group encourages us all to become better writers. It's a very pro-active, dynamic group and there's lots of camaraderie, support, and mentoring going on.

One of the aims of the group, though not necessarily stated, is to raise the level of writing in fiction published for the LDS community. Or, maybe I should say, the aim is to challenge the perception that all writers who write for the LDS market are less talented and skilled than those who write for the general market.

To that end, LDStorymakers created the Whitney Awards. Here's the process:

1. Anyone, you or me or the person down the street, can nominate a book for a Whitney. The criteria are that
  • The book is written by an LDS author. It can either be written for the LDS market or the general market.
  • The book is fiction.
  • The book is published in the year it is nominated. Self published books are eligible.

2. Nominations are closed at the end of the year. Then a panel of five judges reads all the books that received at least five nominations and selects five finalists in each category.

3. After the finalists are posted, the academy--made up of LDStorymakers, publishers, other authors, some high-profile bloggers, and bookstore owners--votes.

In order to vote for a winner in in any of the categories, the voter has to have read all five selections.

In order to vote for Best Book of the Year, the voter has to have read all thirty selections.

4. Winners are announced at a gala at the end of the Storymakers Writing Conference at the end of April.

So, there you go. Counting the Cost was nominated and selected to be a finalist. I don't mind waiting until April to see the next step. I'm not looking to win. Not crossing fingers. I consider it an honor to be a finalist, and I'm willing to leave it at that.

I hope you'll check out the finalists for this year. You might find something you'd really like to read.


Follow this blog! Next week I'll write a review of Tanya Mills' book The Reckoning, which was a finalist in two categories in last year's Whitney Awards, and deservedly so.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Liz Adair's world Famous Pancakes

After I promised to post about how to make pancakes, I got notification that my book, Counting the Cost, was a finalist for a Whitney Award. So, I'll keep my promise to blog about pancakes, but you have to promise to come back tomorrow when I blog about the Whitneys.

So, back to pancakes:

I have never understood why people use pancake mix. Pancakes from scratch are cheap, simple, and they taste so much better than Crusteeze or Bisquick pancakes that I'm sure you'll never go back to a mix after you try these.

Here's the formula for pancakes for 2 people, and you're not going to measure. That's what makes it so easy.

1 cup flour
(white or whole wheat)

1 tablespoon baking powder

salt--about as much as would cover a dime. Just put it in the palm of your hand and say, "That's about right," and dump it in.

oil--I'll tell you how much in a minute

1 egg for white flour pancakes, 2 eggs for whole wheat--or use two eggs for either.

Milk--I'll tell you how much in a minute.

Simply double the flour,baking powder and eggs as you increase the people, and the rest of the ingredients will take care of themselves.

After you've mixed the flour, salt and baking powder together, make a well in the flour clear down to the bottom of the bowl and expose a place about the size of a fifty-cent piece.

That's how much oil you're going to put in. Fill up the well with oil. It probably is a scant 1/4 cup, but we're not measuring.

Then add your eggs and milk.

The amount of milk you will use is about the same amount of flour that you use. If you used a cup of flour, you'll probably use a cup of milk. But just pour in the milk and start mixing with a whisk. You want to end up with a smooth batter about the consistency of...pancake batter. If it's too runny, add a bit more flour. If it's too thick, add a bit more milk. You'll get the hang of it.

Have your griddles heating while you mix your batter. I have an old electric stove, and I heat them on high for a while and then turn the dial to just above low, on the way to medium. If you're working with whole wheat flour, you want them to cook slowly, because otherwise they'll get too brown before they get done.

If you don't have a good temper on your griddle, or if it's not teflon, spray it with Pam and then wipe it off.

I have a 1/2-cup ladle that I use to pour the batter onto the griddle to cook. You'll see bubbles form--but if they form immediately, your griddle is too hot. When the pancake has 'risen' and kind of solidified around the edges, it's ready to be turned.

Turn it over and let it cook a little longer--this is something you've got to learn to judge. If you want to see if it's done, you can break the crust and look inside, but you'll soon get the hang of it.

So there you go! As I said, try them, and you'll never go back to a mix.

And...I promised home-made syrup. Here it is:

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

Bring to a boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.

Turn off the heat and add 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp (depending on how you like it) Maple flavoring.

A dollop of Kayro syrup added as you're cooking it helps keep the syrup from sugaring as you store it between breakfasts.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

An Interview with Rachel Rager

I love Rachel Rager's web site, Clean Romance 4 You. It's uncluttered, easy to navigate, clever, and let's you know what this lady is all about.

Rachel was gracious enough to let me interview her about her newest book, By Love or By Sea, so we'll get right to it:

LIZ: Tell us a bit about yourself: where you're from, about your family.

RACHEL: I am the oldest of three and grew up in Casper, Wyoming. In college I majored in Vocal Music Performance and loved participating musical theater! I married my husband, who also grew up in Casper, almost nine years ago and we have three beautiful daughters. Beautiful and a handful! A couple months ago, we moved to Provo, UT and I am blessed to be able to stay home with my children and write! I love to sing, write, read, ride bikes, play basketball, have picnics, and spend time with my family!

LIZ: That sounds like a busy life. What is your writing schedule?

RACHEL: The easiest time for me to write is either during nap time in the early afternoon, or in the evening, after the girls have gone to bed. (My husband has really begun to enjoy several TV shows!)

LIZ: Ah, yes. It's been a lot of years, but I remember the gift that children's naptime is. How long have you known you wanted to be a writer?

RACHEL: I never wanted to be a writer. When I was young, I couldn’t spell and disliked English in general. In fact, I didn’t even like to read and was not good at it. I sometimes would have great ideas, but after a page and a half of extensive details, I would grow tired and end the story in a half page! When my oldest daughter was about eight months old, I woke up from a dream and decided to write it down. I just wanted to see if I could do it. That was eight years ago. I finished it and it was terrible! But I did it! I began another one and that one was better. By Love or By Sea was actually the third story that I wrote but it was the first one published.

LIZ: Wow! You're the first writer I've ever asked that question who didn't say they always wanted to write. We're glad you had that dream. So, with that kind of a beginning, how have you learned the craft?

RACHEL: Mostly, especially in the beginning, I was self-taught. After I was married, I began reading more and more, and when I started writing, I simply wrote in the style of the books I’d been reading. The more I wrote, the better I got. Several years after I began writing, I joined ANWA, which was one of the best things I’ve ever done as a writer. Those women have helped me more than I could have imagined. Support, encouragement, and constructive criticism has been an invaluable tool for me!

LIZ: I'm with you, Rachel. I'm a much better writer because of all I learned in ANWA, and I had already published two books when I discovered that marvelous writer's group.

Do you plot your books ahead of time or just begin writing and see where it takes you?

RACHEL: Even though I’ve only published one book, I’ve written several more. And depending on the story, will depend on how I write it. Some, like By Love or By Sea, I just sit down and see where the adventure takes me. Others, I actually map out on paper before I begin. However, in almost every story I’ve completed, I always write several scenes out of order. They’ll come to me and I write them down and then work them into the story as I go along. That’s always fun!

LIZ: I would find it really hard to write scenes out of order. What do you find is the hardest thing about writing?

RACHEL: Wow. There are so many. I’d like to say that I can just sit down and write the perfect thing all the time! But I can’t. Perhaps at the top of my list would be editing. I find editing tedious and boring. I’d much rather be creating! But editing is creating too. But I find it much more challenging. Sometimes, sitting down to the computer and staying focused is the hardest part of writing. Correspondence with friends is sometimes much more gratifying, especially if I’m not certain what to write that day or where the story might be going. Other days, writing is the hardest part. I am often surprised how challenging it is to just start writing, sometimes!

LIZ: I feel the same way. To me, sitting down at the keyboard is an act of faith. By the way, I love the cover of your book. Tell us what By Love or By Sea is about.

RACHEL: Alice Lind Frank never forgot the boy she loved when she was just six years old, even after he was lost at sea. Now a young woman, Alice has found happiness in living and working with her grandparents, and in the affections of Clarence Hielott, the wealthy shipyard owner who intends to make Alice his bride.

When a ragged sailor appears in town, Alice is reminded of the young boy who once held her heart. Upon learning that the sailor is in fact her childhood love, Caleb, she finds herself falling for him again.

But Clarence refuses to let this ghost from the past destroy his plans for the future. He exposes the secrets of Caleb’s past, and Alice realizes that the boy she once knew is now a man with a dark history. Soon Caleb and Clarence are locked in a fierce competition for Alice’s heart.

Alice must decide if she could overcome her fears and surrender her heart to Caleb or marry Clarence.

LIZ: I'm interested in why you, an intermountain-west lady, set this book by the sea? Do you have an affinity for sailing?

RACHEL: I’ve always liked the sea but have never spent tons of time there. Still, I enjoy the smell of the salty air and the sound beneath my toes. There’s something magical about the sea. And there’s something about someone being lost and then returning that has an appeal for me. Therefore, I put the two together!

LIZ: What do you want the reader to take away from this book?

RACHEL: I want readers to be able to set the book down with a sigh of longing for the simpleness of days gone by. I want them to feel a renewed sense that there can still be good in the world and they can still be happy. I want people to be able to lose themselves in the past for a brief moment and feel refreshed when they emerge and once again join the sometimes mundane tasks of today’s world.

LIZ: I know what you mean. I always feel that a good book is like a mini-vacation. Have you begun your next book?

RACHEL: I’m polishing up one with a working title of A Dress to the Heart.

LIZ: What is it about? Can you give us the story line?

RACHEL: Ivy Lewis is both provider and nurturer for her seven younger siblings. Plain and poor, she works as an apprentice to a seamstress, yearning for scholastic knowledge and finding her true love. Her social standing places her as an outcast among many, namely the arrogant Eleanora Key, who can’t seem to torture her enough. And like Miss Key, Ivy has her eye set on Lord Sterling Bennett; the contrast lying in that Ivy can never hope to capture his attention, let alone aspire to gain his admiration.

When Ivy meets a mysterious man on the road, Mr. Alan, her entire world shifts. She is no longer invisible to the world. Amid trying to care for her ill mother and her siblings, she finds herself kidnapped, courted by two wealthy men, and demoralized by Eleanora Key. Through it all, she learns her worth as a woman and the importance of maintaining the values she’s always believed in. But she must discover the secrets of Mr. Alan before it is too late.

LIZ: It sounds like you've got lots of things going on in that one. I already don't like Eleanora Key.

RACHEL: I’m also doing some rewrites on The Tiger, Unleashed, set in the 1800’s in California and A Cold Heart, which is a historical romance based at Platte Bridge Station just outside of Casper, Wyoming.

I’m also considering writing a book about Betsy Winter’s journey. (Betsy is the sour, old woman in By Love or By Sea.) I have heard so many things about her. Everyone just loves her! So, I’m thinking about that.

LIZ: You certainly made her a vivid character. I can see that it would be fun to tell Betsy's story and let us see her as a young woman.

RACHEL: I have probably a dozen stories in my head and no time to put them on paper. So I hope that you will see many more books from me in the future!

LIZ: I hope so, too! Thanks, again, Rachel for allowing me to interview you.

So, Readers, you can see Rachel's book trailer by clicking here, and you can buy By Love or By Sea at Amazon and take a mini-vacation to a rustic seaside town.

Follow this blog! I promise my world famous pancake recipe by Saturday so you can have them for Sunday supper. Both regular and light, fluffy whole wheat.