Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eating eggs for the sake of Dragon Eggs

by Shirley Bahlmann - I have been SO GOOD since the doctor told me to eat a low-cholesterol diet in August. No eggnog, no ice cream, no sour cream, no eggs... until my son was in the market for dragon eggs. "I need to blow out some egg shells to make dragon eggs," he said. "Will you eat them if I do?" Well, how could I stand in the way of progress? So I ate two eggs. And here's a blurry picture of the resulting dragon eggs. I don't get points for sticking absolutely to my diet, or taking clear pictures, but may I please have a couple of points for fostering creativity?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Legend in My Own Time

by Shirley Bahlmann
I didn't know I was a legend until last Tuesday when I sat in front of Snow College Professor Bruce Peterson at my son's school Christmas program. Between songs, Peterson leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up from my book (which I read between songs) to see him smiling down at me. "Do you know what I remember about you?" he asked.
Now that was a loaded question if I ever heard one! So many possibilities ran through my brain that I was dizzy when I answered, "No. What?" I wondered if there were any other seats I could move to in the jam-packed gymnasium once he revealed some terrible deed of my past.
"You were reading a paperback book in a college class. When the teacher called on you to answer a question, you looked up, answered it, and went right back to reading."
"Oh," I said, not specifically remembering the incident.
"The teacher stood there with his mouth open," Peterson laughed. "I was amazed. The whole class was. I didn't even know the answer, and I'd been listening. So now, every year I tell my students about you, and say that they can do whatever they want as long as they're getting the information. If they can answer the questions, then they can read or draw or listen to music or whatever. But if they can't, then they have to do it my way."
"You tell all your classes about me?" I asked, my eyebrows disappearing into my hairline.
"Yeah. I just thought that was so great when you did that. You taught me that everyone learns differently."
"Cool," I said. "Thanks for telling me." Then I turned around, my eyes falling on the sweet adventure of the written word.
It's really kind of exciting that you never know when you'll do something that impacts someone else. I just happened to find out because I was just being my weird self, reading books in my spare time everywhere I go.
Sometimes I'll sing a bit of song in the grocery store. Sometimes I do high kicks when I'm walking down the street. I don't know why. But if you ever see an urban setting and people on the street break out into a series of random high kicks, then you'll know that Shirley has achieved legend status once again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Giant Red Gumball of Death!

by Shirley Bahlmann
It was evening, and I was puttering around the house, clearing away a little clutter here and there. I even cleaned out my purse, and that's where I found the giant red gumball of death.
I'm sure that my nine-year-old did not know it's true nature when he stashed it in my purse weeks ago. Neither did I when, in a mindless sort of way, I put it in my mouth and tried to chew. It was as hard as a jawbreaker. Ah, a challenge! I was up for it. I persisted, and finally broke through the outer shell to the tough sugary center that had the consistency of a super ball. I was surprised by some little bits of candy that fell out of the middle, and a blob of sugary moisture slid down the wrong tube in my throat.
Let me tell you, air does not travel well through sugar. My breath came in increasingly small amounts until I wasn't getting any air at all. My almost 18-year-old, Zackary, was passing through the room just then, and I grabbed his sleeve. He turned around, took one look at my fish face with my mouth going open and closed, open and closed, then dashed behind me, placed both fists under my ribs, and gave me several sharp squeezes of the Heimlich maneuver. The blasts of air seemed to loosen the sugar blob, and my breathing gradually got easier.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yeah. Thanks," I said, then spit the gum out. It wasn't worth my life.
So, don't despair of your teenagers. Keep feeding them, because you never know - one day they may save your life!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Fuss Before Christmas

By Shirley Bahlmann
After Thanksgiving, I got right on track
Joining the troops for a shopping attack.
I started out happy, it was a fine day.
I had a long list, I was ready to pay.
But others were out with their shopping lists, too.
It was hard to find parking, the place was a zoo.
I managed to grab a nice Christmas ham,
But for vegetables there was just one shriveled yam.
The eggnog was missing, so prune juice instead,
With crackers and cheese to get the family fed.
With still lots of presents I needed to buy,
My feet started hurting. I wanted to cry.
The crowds were horrific, the tug of wars nasty.
They sweaters they fought over stretched out like taffy.
Toy shelves were sparse, with things that were broken
Or cheap knock off copies shipped in from Hoboken.
The clerks were all surly, the sizes all wrong.
The holiday music was sung from Hong Kong.
I finally gave up and dragged myself home.
I sat in a chair, tired clear to the bone.
I started to count all the things that I had.
If they weren’t all equal, someone might feel bad.
Well, Bradley had more things than dear little Sally.
I was short for my mother. I re-checked the talley.
I was all out of money, my credit was low.
But giving for Christmas was expected, so…
I heaved myself upward, I wasn’t yet free.
I stumbled outside past the Nativity.
Then I stopped and I turned. I stared at the child
The baby Jesus on hay that was piled
Inside a manger, the crudest of beds.
It was His birthday, yet where was my head?
Filled with the shopping, the giving, the getting,
The food I’d be feeding, the fussing and fretting.
It was His birthday. The gifts he received
Were just three in number on that Christmas Eve.
Three gifts for the Christ child, that’s all that he got.
His Christmas was simple, mine certainly was not.
I turned right around and marched back in my house.
I picked out three gifts for my children and spouse.
Three for my mother, three for my cousin.
Three was the number, not 3 or 4 dozen.
Then I made cookies from something called “scratch.”
When I taste-tested one, it was the best batch
I’d tasted since the Christmas party.
My fatigue was gone, my laughter was hearty.
To simplify Christmas was the best thing thought of.
To simplify Christmas was to emphasize love.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fun With Heather Moore

by Shirley Bahlmann
Heather was a featured speaker at the Gypsy Writer Author Talks in Ephraim, Utah in November! (I've posted the least blurry picture that my 9-year-old took. Thank you, Michael.)
One thing I've always admired about Heather, or H.B. as her writing fans call her, is that she's so polished and professional. We had a good crowd of about 30 attendees listening to her talk about her writing career and asking her questions about story ideas and her future projects. Several people told me afterward how much they enjoyed her visit!
Now Heather is the proud owner of one of the coveted Gypsy Writer awards! (There are only seven in the whole wide world.)
Thanks to Heather and her mother, husband, and cute children for making the trip to Ephraim, Utah!
(Hm, I wonder... does the blur in the picture soften my wrinkles?)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

WOO-HOO! They let me back in!

by Shirley Bahlmann
The Blogspot Police have unlocked my blog and let me back in!
Some one... some thing... probably a little spy-bot doohickey... accused me of writing pam with an "S" on my blog, you know, the processed lunch meat in a can (I don't dare spell it in case they shut me down again.) I asked for a reprieve: come and read it! I'm clean! Shampoo and toothpaste clean!
It took this long for them to say, "Okay, you don't stink, write on."
So, I'm baaack.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


by Shirley Bahlmann
It was a year and a half ago when I got the urge to contribute to the local city park so that my family's names could be sandblasted in bricks for ever and ever or until a meteor strike, whichever comes first. I know I won't get any blessings in heaven for having my name on my contribution. My Heavenly home may be a few bricks short. It took a looooong time for us to be firmly entrenched underfoot in the new park's sidewalk, but now I'm proud to announce that the Bahlmann's are officially a bunch of blockheads.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Two Ladies in Red

by Shirley Bahlmann
It was with great anticipation that I hurried to get ready for our author visit last Tuesday. I flung my "Eeyore University" t-shirt on the bed and pulled on a classic black t-shirt and festive red cotton vest. I thought Christmas colors would be appropriate for greeting the author of "The Santa Letters."
When Stacy Gooch Anderson popped out of her car, I saw that she wore a beautiful shimmering red blouse. I love sparkles. She looked gorgeous. I had to have my picture taken with her! (I know it's blurry, but you don't see any wrinkles on me, do you? DO YOU? That's what I thought. Boy, am I ever tall... I hope I remembered my 24-hour deodorant.)
It was delightful to have Stacy speak to my writing group first, and then to the community who gathered in the conference room. (I didn't get to hear that one, since I was rescuing my son from his locked car at work twelve miles away.) Stacy sold 35 books to grateful attendees, and handed out door prizes she brought with special messages on each one, putting us all in the Christmas spirit even though it was before Halloween!
Lastly, she and her husband, Brad, insisted on helping me carry things to my car, even though it was 9:00 p.m. before they left for home. Ho, ho, ho. They live what's in Stacy's book. And I was privileged to meet them both.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Donut Date

by Shirley Bahlmann
It happened at a college ward Halloween party. I wasn't there because I'm in college, although I once was, but because my husband works as ward clerk. I was supposed to be a good influence, you know, the stable older wife of the slightly nerdy clerk, yadda, yadda. (Except that hubby is a mountain man who knows Broadway musicals and recognizes opera. He's a macho nerd.)
Anyway, someone had the great idea of tying donuts to a broom handle and dangling them in front of hungry college students. I'm telling you, it was hard to hold them back. Once the students sunk their teeth into the confections and snarfed them down, they thought it would be fun to have the older, more sedate party-goers bite into donuts without using their hands.
(Ah... but they said nothing about faces.) I wasn't going to play because I'm on a low-cholesterol diet, but I was peer-pressured into standing in line beside my husband, the dangerous donut mocking me with its sugary sweetness.
"On your mark, get set, go!"
I lunged into the donut, then swung it around with my face and pushed it into my surprised husband's cheek, and took a big bite. (Of the donut, not his cheek.) It worked so well, I did it again. Then a third of the donut fell on the floor, and I did a victory dance in my long red-riding hood cape.
But my dance was short-lived. Bob was struggling with his confection. I hate to see a man suffer, especially one I'm married to, so I placed myself in mortal danger and stood behind his donut, with the pastry right at lip level. He went for it. We kissed. (Well, if you can call mashing your lips together against a big fat puff of sweet dough kissing.) The kids laughed. We did it again. By the time Bob had the donut down, I was glazed from forehead to chin. Half an hour later, I was still peeling frosting off my face in hidden places.
I'm thinking that Bob and I weren't cheating, no, we were setting a good example of how to stay in love 30 years later.
Did you ever notice that thirds of donuts lying on the floor look like little mouths smiling up at you? They do.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Smiley Band Got Camera Shy

by Shirley Bahlmann
My smiley wristband is gone. It didn't die a natural death, either. It slipped away when Channel 14 KJAZZ came to film me in my native element for an October 24 TV spot. It was the segment where the camera guy suggested a close-up shot of me reaching my hand into the Manti Library History cabinet to pull out an old book. The smiley band stared up at me in horror, it's plastic-y yellow smiley faces wrinkled with age and fear. "Let me gooooo!" it wailed.
So I did. Out of the kindness of my heart, I ripped that little fellow free.
If you watch the TV segment this Friday, October 24 at 8:00 a.m., you'll see him on my wrist when I'm telling stories to the children. But by the time we get to the research phase... the little fellow's gone to a better place.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Haunted Dog

By Shirley Bahlmann
Bibs was just four days old, a little black weiner with a small white dot between her shoulder blades, like she'd been touched by a ghost. (Just look at her spooky eyes!) I didn't really want a Border Collie, I was more interested in a cute little whisker dog like my cousins, Guy and Janette Rallison, have. But Bob and the boys would have none of that. We weren't sure Bibs was our puppy until we did "doggy tests" at five weeks old. All three boys chose her from the litter, and that was good enough for me.
When Bibs came to our house, she was too scared to sleep alone, so the boys hunkered down in their sleeping bags in her dog run. When the weather turned cold enough, they came inside and she stayed out.
When she first met our cats, they were all about the same size, but they wouldn't play nice. Sometimes our white-as-a-ghost cat, Dusty, would trot away to find a sunny spot and Bibs would happily give chase. Our black cat, Slick, never turned tail to Bibs. Even though Bibs grew to ten times his size, Dusty's the one who makes Bibs run.
The ghost touch has done other damage to Bibs' bravado. She's afraid to go in our living room, is afraid of the bathtub, blinking lights, and being behind closed doors. But worst of all, she's afraid of her dog feeder.
It's a terrific feeder that holds a whole bag of dog food with a lid to keep it clean and dry. We knew she wasn't fond of pushing open the little hinged door with her nose to get at her food, so we propped it open with a rock and thought we would live happily ever after.
Last month, Bibs was in our house when Bob asked, "Does she have any food?"
"I saw some in her feeding tray," I said. "Why?"
"She acts likes she's starving," he said.
It was true. She was doing more than vacuuming the kitchen floor, she was trying to root in the garbage can and stand up to the counter when she thought we weren't looking and attempting to open cupboards with her nose. So when I took her back outside, I inspected the feeder more closely. I found spider webs woven across the feeding tray. Was she scared of spiders, or had they set up shop there because she never her nose in to eat her food? When I opened the lid, it was chock full of dog food, clear to the top.
"Bibs!" I said. "I can't believe you're scared of your feeder!" She lowered her head between her white-spotted shoulders and wagged her tail in apology.
I took pity on the ghost-touched dog and scooped some food out for her.
I think we're going to dress her up as a werewolf for Halloween.

Three Angels For Christmas

by Shirley Bahlmann
My writer friend, Lori Nawyn, sent me a cute Christmas booklet that she not only WROTE, but also ILLUSTRATED! (How talented is that?) The story is a brief six-pager about Nawyn's grandparents and friend, all of whom passed away, and how hard it was for Nawyn, but now she sees them as her Christmas angels. I could tell that this story meant something to Nawyn, and it may touch the hearts of other readers as well.
I'm very taken by the angel illustrations. There are three of them, and they are sober yet beautiful renditions. They each even have a different hair color!
If you would like to have some appropriate gifts on hand for those who surprise you with a little Christmas remembrance, these would be ideal. They are $4.95 and come with their own envelopes. They make fancy Christmas gift cards and stocking stuffers, too! And if you have extra, well, there's always next year.

The Smiles Go On...

by Shirley Bahlmann
Well, it's getting a bit wrinkly and crinkly, but still hangs out on my wrist. It's been three weeks, and the smiles go on...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Santa's Secret" Stole My Heart

by Shirley Bahlmann
After reading this book, I no longer feel the need to make excuses for signing “Shirley Claus” on Christmas cards because “Santa’s Secret” tastefully binds the kindness of Santa Claus with the teachings of the Savior to align the two caring men on the same side of goodness and love.
I was crying by page 16. They were happy tears.
This book is so full of delightful passages that pop up like toffee in a candy bar that the whole thing is a delight to read. Well, okay, if you want to get picky, there are a half a dozen grammar challenged sentences, such as “I knew right away I’d forgot my glasses.” (It should be …forgotten my glasses…) but Christy told me this is to keep it true to the voice of the man who inspired this book.
Yes, this book is an even greater Christmas treasure because it’s based on true experiences of long-time Santa’s helper Phil Porter. It covers the reasons we shouldn’t judge another’s circumstance by what we see, and it aptly demonstrates how giving of yourself without asking for anything in return can be magical. I dare you to read it without needing a tissue. This book comes alive with instances of faith where tough, next-to-impossible situations work themselves out in realistic ways that still come across as blessings from heaven. It’s positively heart-warming to see how the spirit and love of Christmas flowed through so many hands, showing how we can all be part of the magic, even by small means. It’s amazing how little things can end up counting for so very much.
This book is a gift you can hold in your hands as well as your heart. My copy is bristling with notes for passages I wanted to share with you, but on second thought, you’ll like them better when you read this enchanting book yourself.

Shirley: Hey, Christy, it’s a little hard to tell by starlight, but those look like nice sandals you’re wearing.
Christy: Sh! Somebody might hear you.
Shirley: (looking around, then whispers) Who?
Christy: A highway robber.
Shirley: I don't see anyone. All I see is a wall.
Christy: Ancient Bethlehem’s city wall, to be exact.
Shirley: What are we doing outside? How do we get in?
Christy: Through the eye of a needle.
Shirley: Come again?
Christy: It’s a little opening by the city gate. Camels have to crawl through, but I can make it standing up. (Looks me up and down) You, oh freakishly tall one, might have to duck.
Shirley: So, we couldn’t have met here during daylight?
Christy: No. Tonight’s a special night. (Christy grins, her teeth shining white in the subdued light.)
Shirley: Okay, lead the way. Ooo, low ceiling, you weren’t kidding. Hey, I notice your book, “Santa’s Secret,” was written with Phil Porter. Who is he?
Christy: Phil is just a bus driver from Salem, Utah. But he has a special connection to this place.
Shirley: How did you meet him?
Christy: I work for a newspaper, the Spanish Fork News, and a few years ago I was assigned to interview him for a story in the Christmas Special Section. You see, Phil has been Santa Claus for 27 years now, and he has a unique perspective on the Christmas holiday.
Shirley: Ah, we’ve reached the city. Argh! A spotlight!
Christy: No, Shirley, that’s an exceedingly bright star.
Shirley: Oh. Now what do we do?
Christy: Come this way.
Shirley: Okay, I’ll follow along. What made you think of writing this book?
Christy: When I interviewed Phil, I was so touched and overwhelmed by the spirit of his stories, I approached him about coming together to write a novel. He said he'd been approached several times before--his stories are that good--but this time, the pieces just fell right. He is not a writer, but he is a story-teller, so he came to my house several times and I recorded his stories as he told them. I took those, and wove them together with a fictional "season" of Christmastime, to create a setting where his stories can take place. Some of what happens between him and his family in the book is fictional, and though he wanted to keep the names of his immediate family the same, all of the other names are changed. Almost everything else in the book is based on actual events. You really feel that when you read it, too. The stories ring with truth, and go right to the heart because they really happened.
Phil believes in Santa Claus in a different way than I've ever seen before. When he dresses in his Santa suit, he really "becomes" Santa. And because he takes his role so seriously, he has had many opportunities to offer help, comfort and love to people who are struggling during the holiday season. He's a true giver of real gifts.

Shirley: Oh, I must agree, I sensed that when I read it. Hey, what’s that up ahead?
Christy: A stable. I told you tonight was special. I wanted to meet you here on this night to see the real reason for Christmas.
Shirley: You don’t mean…
Christy: Yes. In that stable is born the Savior of the world.
Shirley: Wow. (Looking up) What’s that? I hear bells.
Christy: (Smiling) It’s Santa Claus.
Shirley: Here? Now? (Christy and Shirley watch as Santa lands his sleigh, takes off his hat, then walks into the stable and kneels beside the manger.) That is so awesome. Hey, doesn’t Santa Claus look a little like…?
Christy: Phil.
Shirley: Yeah. I love how they’re both on the same team. Thanks so much for bringing me here. You and Phil… and the Savior.
Christy: You’re welcome.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Running Fans and Feet = shortened stature

It made perfect sense for my sons to run their fans on summer nights. After all, their bedrooms are upstairs, and heat rises.
The whirring fans also brought back memories of when I was a girl sharing a double bed with my two little sisters in muggy New Jersey. We always ran the fan on hot nights, where the humming blades and gentle, artificial breeze were like a lullaby.
Who knew it could be dangerous? I never suspected, until my big 14-year-old Brian came limping down the stairs a few weeks ago. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"Well," he said, sinking into a chair. "I woke up in the night because my foot hurt. When I flipped on my lamp, I saw that somehow I'd stuck my foot out of bed and caught it in the fan." He indicated a huge blood blister under his big toenail, which is part of his size 14 feet, which are stuck onto his 6' 3" body.
Bad Mother Moment: I'd let my older son use the fan with the broken safety cover, so his younger brother could have the fan with covered blades. I never thought of my tall son's legs being long enough to stretch out of bed far enough to be shortened by half a dozen spinning plastic blades.
I marched right up the stairs and took the faulty fan from my son's room. I gave him a safety covered fan, and encouraged him to set it on his desk. But then... his desk is beside his bed. You don't think his fingers are small enough to fit through the safety cover slots, do you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How long do smiles last?

by Shirley Bahlmann
Last Monday, I went swimming with my family and got this nifty swifty smiling wrist band as proof I didn't sneak in to the pool without paying. It is such a cheerful little thing, I couldn't make myself cut through the smiling faces to take it off after I dried off. It's been a week, now, and it still smiles up at me every day. I'm wondering how long it will last before it falls off on its own. (Guesses, anyone?)
I'm not the only one playing the waiting game. When I went to the elementary school, I saw a 5th grader who'd been in the pool the same night I was. She lifted a black band of electrical tape on her wrist to show the smiley faces underneath. "My brother and I are having a contest to see who can keep their wristband on the longest," she said.
Well, I'm not putting tape over mine. That would defeat the purpose. I like to be smiled at every day.
How long do you think it will last?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jock Jones builds Colonial Windsor Chairs in Spring City, Utah

By Shirley Bahlmann
When I visited the Windsor chair shop in Spring City, Utah, I couldn’t help noticing three framed awards above the doorway between Jonathan “Jock” Jones’ cozy showroom and spacious shop. For three consecutive years, he has received the impressive “One of America’s Best” award given by Early American Life magazine.
“I wish I’d started building chairs forty years earlier,” Jones mused. It’s been eight years since Jones retired from corporate security in Kaysville, Utah, and traveled with his wife, Bonnie, back to New Hampshire and Eastern Tennessee. That’s where the life-long woodworking hobbyist studied Windsor chair making from traditional craftsmen. Since the needed wood doesn’t grow in Utah, Jones brings in a load of eastern forest logs twice a year.
Rather than using exact measurements from original museum piece Windsors, Jones uses old world techniques to fashion furniture for today’s backsides. “We tweak them a little, because we’re the McDonald’s generation,” Jones says with a laugh.
Windsor chairs were brought from England about 1730 by colonists and made into a design of their own when they removed the frills. The style is characterized by the legs and the backrest fastened into the two inch thick seat. Maple is strong and used for the legs because it turns easy on a lathe. Eastern white pine seats are soft enough for carving, and arms are fashioned from bendable oak or hickory.
Through history, the chair has been adapted to suit the user’s needs, such as the Windsor desk chair Thomas Jefferson used to craft most of the Declaration of Independence. He later put a swivel in the post beneath the seat so it operated like our modern office chairs, or like a lazy susan. Jones even saw a Windsor chair with a foot pedal that could be used to operate an overhead fan which was also attached to the chair.
Some may think that leaning against one of Jones’ spindle backed creations would be like leaning against a pile of sticks, but when Jones invited me to try one of the elegant chairs, the back curved snugly around my shoulders as I settled in. Then he surprised me by grabbing the back of another chair and twisting it one way and another, moving it several inches each time. When he let go, the chair popped right back into shape.
“Chairs are the only furniture that’s always being moved,” Jones explained. “Every time you sit down to eat, you move your chair. Then you’re always turning or bending while you sit in it. Machine made chairs can’t hold up to the constant movement, and have to be replaced every few years.”
Jones knows of what he speaks, since his Windsor chairs have withstood seven children and fifteen grandchildren without breaking. “Thousands of colonial chairs are still in use today because they’ve been made right,” Jones said. “They’re put together like a trussed bridge; extremely strong and durable, but they look far more delicate than they really are.”
Jones drills each of the 43 holes required for a chair at a compound angle, a feat that would take longer with power equipment. “It’s faster to build the chairs by hand,” Jones said, then demonstrated how he used his old shaving horse, which is basically an old fashioned clamp. “Every household used to have one of these,” he said, pulling the old draw knife toward him and growing a large, pale curl of wood. Jones uses a lot of antique tools, some he’s refurbished and some he’s made himself. There are also cottage industries that make old-fashioned tools. He showed me an old spoon bit of the kind that’s been used since ancient Egyptian days.
Milk paint is the finishing touch on a true Windsor chair, which are painted to disguise the different kinds of wood. “Milk paint’s been around for 2,000 years,” Jones aid. “You can make your own if you let milk sit until it curdles, then mix the whey, which holds the milk protein, with quick lime and color.” Jones buys powdered milk and mixes it himself. He also uses animal hide glue in flake form, which requires heating up with water. “Milk paint and animal hide glue are hard to beat,” Jones says. “They’re non-toxic, too.”
Because Jones’ chairs are hand built, no two are exactly alike. “Some don’t come out at all and end up in the fireplace,” Jones quipped. “That’s the risk of making them by hand. The risk of making them by machine is that even though they all turn out, they don’t last, because machines can’t make them right.”
Jones showed how he fitted a chair leg into the seat, and even without the wedge applied, he had to use a hammer to get the leg out. “Cutting spindles with a saw not only loses a lot of the free-flowing artistic design, but it doesn’t allow for following the grain, so they don’t have the strength of grain-split wood,” Jones said. “It’s like Wonder bread. You can spread peanut butter on it and eat it, but it’s not the same as the bread Grandma made by the hearth. You can buy mass produced chairs, but they’re not the quality of hand built ones.”
Jones chose to retire to Spring City for its strong art presence. He markets his chairs at arts and crafts shows, through sales on the Internet, and to people who are welcome to walk into his shop at 125 South Main in Spring City, right across the street from the old rock church. Visit his website at:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Distant Cousin," by Al Past

At 385 pages, "Distant Cousin" is a satisfyingly thick book that will probably take you several nights curled up by the fire to read, unless you are put off by the thought of an alien watching you from the moon. In that case, it may take longer, depending on how many times you look over your shoulder. But soon you will come to realize that this alien only has your best interests at heart. What's more, she's cute, and she looks like us, and
for good reason, too. She's a distant cousin of humankind, a race of people who left earth many, many years ago and settled on another planet in another galaxy. Now, this race is sort of like your several-greats-ancestor who moved to Tuscaloosa way back on the genealogy tree, so now that branch of the family talks real funny and eats things you'd never put in your mouth. You'd never recognize those Tuscaloosans as kin, either, even if you bumped into them nose to nose.
Well, when this astronomical "cousin" risks her solitary mission to warn earth people of an approaching meteor storm, things don't go as she expected.
Past offers some interesting twists and turns in our girl's earth adventures (I love how she deals with the bad boys at the rest stop!) and he serves up a very satisfying conclusion. I thought the book was a little slow paced at times, but I thought the same thing of "The Poisonwood Bible," and look where that one ended up on the charts. On the other hand, some passages had me reading faster, and I know that some readers appreciate a more gradual build up. I was also told that there is a face on the cover, which I could never make out, unless it was some sort of vague constellation. I figured if it was that hard to find, then it shouldn’t even be mentioned, but, lo, and behold! When I copied Past’s cover to put with this review, I could see the face! (Can you?)
This book had a refreshing new premise that I have not read anywhere else, and it has a nice mix of varied characters. I also enjoyed the realistic motivation at the end. (I don't want to give specifics away and spoil the ending, okay?) and I like the tension and surprise twist in overcoming the final obstacle.
Al certainly knows his aliens.


Shirley: Hey, is you, isn't it? There's a glare on your space helmet from the sun.
Al: Yes, it's me! Sorry! This is my first interview from the moon—thank heavens I write fiction! Let's get off the porch and go inside!
Shirley: Wow, the moon is awfully barren, especially up close. I'd hate to be here by myself. What made you think of setting part of your story here?
Al: Only the first scene was set here, really. It was because I didn't want there to be any doubt that Ana Darcy was not from Earth. I could have played that for its possible suspense value, but the story wasn't about whether Ana Darcy was really an alien or not. I wanted the reader to see us Earth people from an outsider's point of view from the very beginning.
Shirley: You gave new meaning to "Man in the Moon," or, rather, "Woman in the Moon." I really liked the events you created to assimilate the alien into society, where she didn't really fit in, but people made room for her. Have you ever been a stranger in a strange town?
Al: Thanks! I'm from west Texas. I had a friend who went exploring out in the desert and lost the plug from his oil pan. He was in serious trouble until a rancher flew by in his plane, landed on the dirt road, took him to the nearest town to buy oil, and then flew him back to his car and whittled a plug for the oil pan. He wouldn't take any money. He told my friend, "Mister, this is tough country. It would never have been settled if people hadn't helped each other." There are bad guys in Distant Cousin, but the ordinary folks are pretty decent people. Never mind what the Coen brothers say in No Country for Old Men. I've lived there; they haven't. Oh, OK, Cormac McCarthy wrote the book and he lives in El Paso, but hey, I grew up there! My dentist told me El Paso water contains lots of lithium, which tends to make people happy. Cormac McCarthy is from Tennessee, which is kind of like Tuscaloosa, since you mentioned it. Maybe he should drink more of El Paso's water.
Shirley: It would be nice if the moon had any water at all. Ahhhhh! A meteorite shower! Where's that secret moon observation post? And don't tell me it's Top Secret! I don't want any dents in my hairdo. *Whew,* thanks, Al. I owe you a Milky Way shake for this. Say, why isn't this base visible from Earth?
Al: No, this base is not Top Secret. After all, you're sitting in it! Your hair looks lovely, by the way.
Shirley: (patting hair) Aw, thanks, Al.
Al: I expect you could see Ana Darcy's base through the Hubble telescope, but that telescope is in Earth orbit, and hard to get to. For an earthbound telescope, well, it's just too small. It's about the size of a New York City apartment. I appreciate the offer of a Milky Way shake, but I have stars in my eyes for a Mars bar, if you happen to have one....
Shirley: Oh, trying to separate a girl from her chocolate, are you? That could be dangerous, you know. Your book has a lot of pages. How many light years did it take you to write it?
Al: Hmm. Well, a light year is a unit of distance, so, uh, well, I'm sorry. I can't figure that high. How about Earth years? It took about a year and a half to write, but it took twenty years to figure out. Now, multiply that by 186,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 x 22.5 and get back to me. OK?
Shirley: Okay, but it may take me awhile. Wait a minute... what's that shaking? Meteorites don't feel like that. No... do you think? It couldn't be the Mother Ship! Oh, but it is. I hope the aliens are in a good mood. Hey, I have a great idea! Here's my lipstick... now, hold still... quit resisting!
Al: What are you doing? Have you gone loony?
Shirley: I just drew a smiley face on your space helmet. Now the aliens won't feel threatened. No, really, it looks good, sort of like Bozo in a space suit. Let's go meet them. Uh... you go first. What's this? You're giving me your next manuscript in case you don't return? What's it about?
Al: Bozo in a space suit, eh? I guess that's better than lipstick on a certain porcine critter. The next manuscript will be the fourth in the series. Ana Darcy is still quietly raising a family in an out-of-the-way corner of New Mexico. Her twins are now twelve and becoming characters in their own right. And yes, there are still lots of cats and international intrigue. I can't tell you any more except the title, which will be Distant Cousin: Regeneration. I got in a rut with those. Volume 2 is Distant Cousin: Repatriation and 3 is Distant Cousin: Reincarnation. Maybe I'll ask those aliens what they would recommend. Will you go along and back me up?
Shirley: Oh, no, you'll be fine, as long as they've had lunch and don't carry laser guns. Good bye, Al.
Al: Vaya con dios, Shirley. You're a hoot. It's been a pleasure and please take this fresh moon pie back with you. Y'all come back now, you hear?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Hairy Scary

by Shirley Bahlmann
I've talked to lots of women who hate their hair, but not my little sister, Bev, who admits she's been blessed with luscious wavy dark red come-hither locks. I side with our oldest sister, Melinda, who claims that while we were being created, Bev got in the hair line twice, leaving Melinda with the only thing left over: thin, limp, blonde hair.
I was in line by Melinda.
The funny thing is, lots of women straighten their hair to make it as straight as mine is naturally. Me? I curl mine. I also tease it, which made me look twice at those ladies who sit in front of me in church with little tufts of teased hair showing between thin strands that didn't get combed over all the way, or else were blown all askew by the wind. Not attractive. Sometimes when I smooth my hand over my hair, I feel the little lumps, like mice in their nests, and it makes me shudder.
But if I don't do something with teasing or spraying or threatening to shave it all off, my hair spits out clips and combs and scrunchies. It's very subtle about it, taking three or four hours to let the hair accessory slide to the floor.
Once I saw a picture of me, (complete with hair) at mid-day, after I'd spent half an hour fixing it that morning. If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn I'd just lifted my head off the pillow after a night filled with nightmares.
The other day, the tarp I tied around my front porch (in lieu of an addition that hasn't happened yet) came loose. I climbed up on a chair with fresh twine and tied to my heart's content. When I was done, I felt something tugging at the back of my hair, beneath my ponytail. I reached back and felt a twig stuck in the strands.
A twig? Where had that come from? We didn't have any trees growing on our porch.
So I worked it free and brought my hand down to find my brand new dangly earring in my fingers. Yes, one ear was bare and one wore the other earring.
What the hey? Now I have earring stealing hair!
All right, I'll admit that it's nice to have hair of any kind.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Telling It Like It Is

I have been mistaken as the wife of two of my older sons, a big sister for the other older son, and as my granddaughter's mother, so last week when an elementary student asked if I was my youngest son's grandma, it took me aback. Then I thought it was hilarious. "No," I answered, trying to hold back a laugh.
"She's my mom!" my nine-year-old said, his eyes wide with indignation.
It was only fair. I mean, if I've gotten away with being mistaken as someone younger so many times, it's only right that some honest young eyes pegged me as an older lady. After all, I am a grandma!
And life goes on to the next adventure...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You Always Call Me Princess - by David Ted Eyre

I met the Eyre’s at the 2008 LDS Bookseller’s conference in Salt Lake City. Shellie was in a wheelchair following foot surgery, and her parents were right behind her, as they have been all her life. I smiled at Shellie and said, “I have a sister like you.”
Shellie smiled back, and dang, if she didn’t have dimples just like my little sister, Carolyn, who also happens to have Down Syndrome.
Ted graciously gave me a copy of the his daughter’s most extraordinary experience, a book titled, “You Always Call Me Princess.” As I read, I discovered in the pages an overview of Shellie’s arrival, diagnosis, and life up to the time she was crowned Homecoming Queen of Murray High School. No, this was not a Special Olympics event. This was Homecoming Queen of the entire high school student body, a title voted by her peers.
Having a sister with Down Syndrome helped me relate to some events in this book, but the story has universal appeal. As I read, I could see that adding a special needs child to a family impacts parents differently than siblings.
In this sweet account, Shellie seems to have lived a charmed life. In know that my own sister sometimes gets upset, and is not above stomping out of a room. It’s true that she’s back soon to give hugs all around and say she’s sorry. If Shellie ever had any stomping fits, those parts were left out of this story, which almost makes her too good to be true.
Ted has an incredible grasp of the English language, so good, in fact, that some of his wording was rather high brow for me. I’m more of a simple words girl myself, and think a lot of readers may prefer to read descriptions in simpler language. But the words are understandable, so don’t bypass this gem just because of that. There are also some "thank you's" to key people who helped Shellie which arguably could have been in the acknowledgments, but I may be nitpicking here. You wouldn’t want to miss the unshakable faith of a girl whose father always called her “princess.” The overall feeling of these heartfelt events brimming over with warm fuzzies and blessings shooting through trials like daffodils through winter-dead leaves should touch even the craggiest heart.
Oh, and the final paragraphs pricked tears from the eyes of this reader, because Ted captured the feeling I have for my little sister and others like her with words that aim straight for the heart.

Shirley: Ted, you look rather uncomfortable on that squishy pink velvet chair. Would your rather sit on the canopied silk sofa?
Ted: A silk sofa would probably cause my mind to not stay on the interview questions, so, even though I don't look good in pink, at least I would have a better chance of staying on task.
Shirley: Thank you for meeting with me in this Ultimate Princess Room. You must be used to princess stuff, having lived with one for so many years. When did you think of writing Shellie's story?
Ted: Within a few days of the actual homecoming, a producer asked me if they could do a movie about Shellie's experience and if I would write down as much as I could about her life so they could use some of the information for the script. When I started to write about her life it turned into the book. The movie never became a reality.
Shirley: How long did it take you to write it?
Ted: It took me one year to write the book and nearly ten years to get it published.
Shirley: Uh, oh! (Tinkling sound) Did I forgot to mention that the sparkles fall every hour or so? Don't worry, they comb out. Hey, it looks like you're wearing a crown. That's fitting, since you're the father of a princess or two. But I can't help wondering if Shellie has grumpy times like my little sister does?
Ted: My wife Ruth and I have been involved in Special Olympics for over ten years so we know that special needs kids come with as many varied personalities as any other group, but I have to admit that Shellie has an extremely easy going personality. That was one of the problems the movie people had with the story. There just wasn't enough downs (pun not intended) to equal the ups. They wanted to show a bunch of mean-spirited students or jealous sibling and it just didn't work for us. To tell you the truth, Shellie has a more constantly pleasant demeanor than anyone else in our family.
Shirley: What does Shellie think of having a book with her picture on the cover?
Ted: Shellie was thrilled just to have the book published, She was really surprise and excited when she saw what Granite Publishing had chosen for the cover.
Shirley: I see that you've already looked into a movie deal, but have you ever thought of contacting "Feature Films for Families" movie studios to check further into making Shellie's story into a big screen production? I mean, after all, it worked for "Rudy" and "Radio."
Ted: The producer that contacted us had worked with Feature Films for Families but was not with them at the time he contacted us. We know the owner of that company, or at least have met him a time or two at various weddings etc. but I have never had the nerve to talk to him about the book. His name is Forrest Baker and maybe if I ever have the chance to see him again, and if the timing is right, I will introduce the idea to him. Thanks for the encouragement.
Shirley: What are Shellie's plans for the future?
Ted: Shellie has worked for the last seven years as a teachers aide at an elementary school just a few blocks from our home, and hopes to continue there for the foreseeable future.
Shirley: I hear music… it's a parade! Quick, to the window. Come on, come on, heave yourself up from those cushy cushions! There you go. Look! There's the queen float with Shellie on it! She's so cute. Hold still… no, don't bat my arms away, I'm not pulling your hair, I'm getting some glitter to throw. Come on, lend a hand. Ah, there it goes, sparkling, fluttering through the air. Just like magic.
Thanks for your time, Ted, and thank you for sharing this heartwarming story.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stay in Love - Make Money

by Shirley Bahlmann
I was in church when I found out that staying in love is not only good for your body and soul, but also for your pocket book. I'm not even talking about the old axim, "Two can live as cheaply as one." No, I'm talking about cold, hard cash.
How can this be?
It's simple, and I even got it from the horse's mouth. (Sorry, Shirley Ann, you're not really a horse, that's just what they say! No, they don't SAY you're a horse... ahem.) Shirley Ann is the almost-octogenarian who reported that showing affection for her equally age-advanced husband brought some green into her pocket.
"We were walking down the street in the city," she said, "and this man walked up to us. We thought he might be asking directions or something, but instead he held out a dollar bill. 'What's that for?' I asked, immediately suspicious.
"Pressing it into my free hand, he said, 'I always give a dollar to older couples who hold hands.'" Shirley Ann smiled when she said it.
So there you have it.
One 88-year-old widower was watching people walk by at a craft fair. After awhile, he commented, "You can tell what stage people are in by the way they walk. When they're young and in love, they have their arms around each other. When they're first married, they're holding hands. Then they might have a small child or two and walk beside each other. Then a little later on, one is walking a few steps ahead while the other is a few steps behind." He stopped a moment, then said, "I sure miss my wife. If I had it to do over again, I'd sure do it different."
So there you have it. Now you know. So grab the hand of your loved one, live with no regrets, and maybe you'll even get a dollar for your pocket.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sixteen dollar kids meal

My 9-year-old son was hankering after a fast food kids' meal. I was busy, and in a good mood, and it had been awhile since he'd eaten out. So I gave him five dollars and sent him pedaling away on his bike. (Lest you panic at my mothering, the fast food place is only four blocks from home, this was right after school, and we live in a small town.)
When my boy came home, he had no kids' meal, but a sack with a dollar hamburger in it. "Where's your kids' meal?" I asked.
"They said it was sixteen dollars," he said, his face sad. "They had really cool, toys, too, and I wanted one."
"Who told you it was sixteen dollars?" I asked.
"The worker," my son answered. "When he told me sixteen dollars, I asked, 'Are you sure?' and he said, 'Yes. Sixteen dollars.' So I got something from the dollar menu instead."
I was an unhappy mother. It put me in mind of the time I parked my recumbent bike outside a convenience store/gas station in town and let this same son out of the bike trailer to go in and buy four ice cream sandwiches for a dollar. There was only one sandwich in the freezer, and the clerk said it would cost him forty nine cents. When my son came out to tell me, I stalked inside and talked to the clerk, who, lo and behold, went in the back to open another box of ice cream sandwiches and only charged me twenty five cents each.
WHY COULDN'T HE HAVE DONE THAT FOR MY SON? Why pick on kids just because they're short?
I didn't get to the kids' meal food joint that day, but a couple of days later I was at the counter, asking for a toy that my son would surely have gotten if he hadn't been misinformed. The manager ended up giving me three toys.
That was soooo nice of him.
Other people just need to grow up.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Santa Letters - by Stacy Gooch Anderson

by Shirley Bahlmann
Think, “P.S. I Love You,” condensed to twelve days, with snow, and four kids thrown in.
In a style reminiscent of “The Christmas Box,” Anderson tells a tale of recovery from the loss of a beloved family member. Through a mysterious series of letters and gifts, a widow and her children experience hope where before there was loneliness.
Although this book could have benefited from another edit, it is a Christmas story with a valid message. Even though I found the Santa letters longer than my children would ever sit and listen to, my eyes prickled when I read the tender part about Trevor’s mother.
Too many of the characters had a similar “voice,” with the notable exception of Walter, yet I felt my heart thump with satisfaction when the final gift was opened.
My favorite line is: “…regular old super hero with extra skinny legs.”
This book has a beautiful cover and an overall good message to remind people what is really important all year long.

Shirley: Stacy, thank you for meeting me at the North Pole. What's
that on your feet? Galoshes? What were you thinking, girl? Go skin a
polar bear and make some real boots! Are you sure you're warm enough?
Stacy: Oh Shirley,....have you seen these thighs? There is plenty of insulation for the two of us!...;-)
Shirley: Ho, ho, ho! What is your favorite holiday?
Stacy: Christmas by far. Tinsel, twinkle lights, family, gingerbread, happiness everywhere,'s all just so delicious! A close second would be the 4th of July though since the neighbors don't rat us out when we use the water balloon launcher on a few of the more cranky ones down the street.
Shirley: Whew, that was close. I was scared you might say the 4th of July FIRST, then it would be so ironic that your book is about Christmas. Was getting your first book published like, well, Christmas?
Stacy: Don't know how to answer that one. I'm still kind of uncomfortable with the notoriety that has come with it since I don't really feel it is my story. It's about the Savior and the important gifts He brings into each of our lives. It's a good story but it's just one I was blessed enough to be a part of.
Shirley: That's a very touching outlook. What gave you the idea for writing the Santa Letters?
Stacy: A few years back, I found out that two of my sons had been in a sexually abusive situation. And since some of the perpetrators had been wards of the state, there was a lot of pressure for us to back off. At one point, I had so much anger for what DCFS had put us through that I almost let it destroy me. But this wonderful little voice reminded me of all the things my parents had taught me and insisted that if I wanted to raise sons with integrity, love, compassion and forgiving hearts, I had to learn to do that myself and be an example. Since there was no money for Christmas - it all had gone to legal and counseling bills - I came upon the idea of the Santa Letters as a way to help our family heal and remember all the gifts we had been given throughout the years. I never intended our experience to become a book but I had a friend who when she found out what we'd been doing, she encouraged and challenged me to share it with others.
Shirley: Wow, Stacy. What a great example of making lemonade out of exceptionally bitter lemons. Um. Not to change the subject, but there's a reindeer behind you. He's not smiling.
Stacy: (Looks over her shoulder and then back to Shirley) Oh yeah, that would be Blitzen. He's still mad at me for eating the last bowl of Cheerios - it's heart healthy you know....He loves his oats in any form!
Shirley: (To Blitzen) No Cheerios here! Go look in your feed box! Oh, good, there he goes. (To Stacy) Do you have any other book ideas, say, with reindeer? Or maybe tropical islands? Yes, reindeer can wear hula skirts. I don't
know if they can actually hula, but they can wear grass skirts... for a little while... before they eat them.
Stacy: I was thinking more penguins in puka shells.....And reindeer do hula dance. I saw them swishin' and swayin' once while Santa was playing Blue Hawaii on his ukulele. Oh, and there is the companion book to The Santa Letters that I am currently working on. No animals (other than the thugs in jail) but this one picks up with Guillermo's story.
Shirley: That sounds great! I thought they way you worked Guillermo in was a great twist in reader perspective. Hey, look at that guy over there. That's not the big guy, is it? (Eyes growing wider) It is, it is! Awww, how sweet, he's carrying a pot of hot chocolate toward us! Do you like hot chocolate?
Stacy: Love it! Especially with a hint of mint or amaretto and whipped cream on top. If he's going anywhere near the reindeer though, we may have to settle for a bowl of chicken soup....
Shirley: That's strange. I thought he had a white beard. Oh, I see.
He's moonlighting as a hot chocolate taste tester. Well, looky there.
I never knew reindeer liked hot chocolate. Now they're all smiling. I
guess it's snow cones for you and me, Stace. What do you say? It's been fun talking to you, but now that it's time to go, I'll race you home on a sled!

· Hardcover: 190 pages
· Publisher: Sweetwater Books (July 8, 2008)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 1599551454
· ISBN-13: 978-1599551456
· Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 6 x 0.9 inches
· Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
· Average Customer Review:

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Angel Falling Softly by Eugene Woodbury- Review

By Shirley Bahlmann
Vampires are people, too, with feelings just like us.
Well, almost.
Who says they should just hang out in the dark, remote region of Transylvania? Why not the suburbs of Salt Lake City, where they can learn the art of being a good neighbor, pay fast offerings, make passes at return missionaries, and bring children back from the dead?
Why not?
I’ve had the chance to read reviews of “Angel Falling Softly,” both pro and con. I’ve had friends refuse to review it. I wondered whether I should, but in my musings, the prism turned, and I saw the story a little differently than I did at first.
When I began reading this book with the mesmerizing cover, it was hard to put down. No matter what I was doing, I felt drawn to it. I even saw a slender, white haired young lady jogging around town, and thought of Milada Daranyi. (Is that a cool name, or what?)
About halfway through my reading, I realized this book was no fence sitter. Either you liked it, or you didn’t. I know card carrying Mormons who would slurp it up like ice cream and ask for more. I know other card carrying Mormons who wouldn’t get past the first arousal-before-blood-taking scene, which had my toes hanging over the line of acceptability, but pulled back before I tipped completely over the edge.
This book is not for everyone. Definitely not for anyone who can’t question the sanity of a bishop’s wife. In retrospect, the vampire. Milada, stuck to her morals, even showing an improvement over her early life when she became a vampire through no fault of her own. She goes to neighborhood barbecues. She shows compassion toward the original owner of a company she buys out. She no longer sucks people dry. And she can quote scripture as well as the bishop’s wife. After all, she was around when the monks were writing it all down.
To her credit, Milada balks at the outrageous request of the bishop’s wife. She doesn’t want to do the thing that was done to her. But neighbors are supposed to help each other when they can, right?
If there is any recoil to the storyline of this book, it should not be against the vampire, it should be against the bishop’s wife, who in her faithless, maniacal desperation to save her daughter, ends up losing her anyway. How ironic.
In other areas of the book, the stock market trading descriptions, though impressive, meant nearly nothing to me. The medical jargon was a little easier to follow, although it still seemed more obscure than I think it needed to be.
This is a highly imaginative novel. I would not put it on the shelf next to Gospel Doctrine, but it did have some interesting premises, such as the one the young daughter, Jennifer, put forth about vampires living such long lives (aging one year per century) so they have more time to prepare to meet God. Also, vampires in this book do not wither and die in the sun, nor do they sparkle. They get horrible sunburns that take at least three days to heal.


Shirley: Eugene, is that you? It's so dark on this Transylvania road that I'm not sure who I'm looking at. Oh, it is you. I'm so relieved. Thanks for meeting me here.
Eugene : Hey, it's a pleasure to talk with you. I actually have nothing against well-lit venues. As long as the UV index is below two.
Shirley: Well, it certainly is that. I have to admit, I’ve never read a book as daring as yours. What gave you the idea of writing about a vampire living in Salt Lake City?
Eugene : I've long been a fan of "Buffy" and "Angel," and writers like Annette Curtis Klause ("The Silver Kiss," "Blood and Chocolate") who construct plots that arise from the desire of vampires and werewolves to integrate into human society, to "live and let live." Add to that the "stranger in a strange land" motif. The genesis for "Angel Falling Softly" was a story titled "Blessing Giver" (there's a link to it on my bibliography page). It's about a bishop who asks a girl with supernatural powers to save the life of his son. It was written along the lines of Orson Scott Card's "Folk of the Fringe." I wanted to integrate these ideas and give the story a concrete, contemporary setting. When I was younger, I resisted basing my novels in Utah, thinking it too prosaic. But I finally came to the realization that the old adage is true: it's always best to write about what you know the best. And besides, to the "outside world," Utah can be one weird place.
Shirley: Duck! There's a bat! They don't really go for your hair, you know. Not unless there are bugs in it. Have you washed your hair recently? I don't want to be bat-swooped by association.
Eugene : A few years ago, I attended a family reunion at Lake George in upstate New York. My parents rented an old house--a decaying, gothic dump of a place--but large enough to put the extended family under one roof. I got there from the airport about midnight. And was woken up two hours later by a bat--I kid you not--flapping around my head. My sister named the bat "Harold." As it turned out, Harold was a tenant, though he and his pals usually stuck to the big family room downstairs. I switched to a room with better screens (and showered well.
Shirley: I love the name Milada Daranyi. Is she an old girlfriend of yours?
Eugene: The first thing I do when I get the idea for a novel is start collecting names. I found "Daranyi" in a book about Hungarian history. I wanted the names of the three sisters to have religious connections. "Milada" came specifically from the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia about Prague (that Milada refers to in chapter 13).
Shirley: What made you think of the arousal before blood taking? Those scenes were, admittedly, kind of edgy for me.
Eugene: The intent was to maintain the metaphorical vampire/sex connection, but with a naturalistic/biological rationale underlying the vampirism. Plus an "economic" explanation for the specific behavior. Milada, like Rachel, is a rabid rationalizer, and rationalizes the sex/blood thing as a quid pro quo. She doesn't want to think of herself as a mere parasite. This, in turn, raises the moral stakes for Rachel (and the Mormon population in general). It also accentuates the differences between Milada and Kamilla. Kamilla works at breaking that connection and following a higher moral code, hence Milada snapping at her in chapter 17, "You're just sublimating."
Shirley: Interesting word. Wait… I see a lantern . . . someone's coming! Are they carrying pitchforks? Quick, hide! Have you heard the controversy about your book? Do you think anyone has reason to be upset about it?
Eugene: I waded into the fray on the LDS Publisher blog, and have commented about it on my blog. You can't dictate how people will react to something (though it'd be nice if they reacted on the basis of first-hand information). Still, I take a dim view of this hobby of offense-taking. True, you'll never run out of material and there's that one-year supply of righteous indignation in the basement. But the longer it goes on, the lower the bar gets, until everybody's offended at everybody for everything. I've got no problem with people who choose to avoid the book because of the subject matter or the (relative) explicitness of some of the content. We can agree to disagree on that point. Some objections, though, challenge the very premise of writing fiction, such as equating the author with his characters, or expecting them to reflect an ideal Mormon perspective. I greatly appreciate your observation that Rachel is a flawed person with a flawed view of the world. Not the archetype of the perfect bishop's wife. As I wrote on my blog, sure, it'd be nice if King Lear and Hamlet weren't so messed up. But the plays wouldn't have turned out the same.
Shirley: I see what you mean. A book without conflicted characters would be rather boring. Uh, oh. The light’s coming closer and closer! Oh. (laughs) It’s just the sun.
Wait a minute, Eugene, you’re shrinking. Ah! Shriveled arms! No, it can’t be – what’s happening? (flapping bat wings) Oh, there he goes, toward the belfry. Goodbye, Eugene! Sleep well.

· Paperback: 236 pages
· Publisher: Zarahemla Books (June 30, 2008)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0978797167
· ISBN-13: 978-0978797164
· Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
· Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
· Sales Rank: #805,936 in Books

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happy Pink Shirt

by Shirley Bahlmann
In one single week I overheard three different people say what a wonderful Deseret Industries St. George, Utah had. "The best in the state," "the best in the country," "the best ANYWHERE."
So when I made the 4-hour drive to visit my son in St. George, I decided to visit the thrift store paved with gold. Hm. Well, it turns out is was not gold paved, gold gilded, or gold anything, unless you count the cheap paint on the velvet Elvis painting. In fact, it looked like a regular old DI to me; some trash, some treasures. I actually thought the one in Provo was better because it was bigger.
But then I started leafing through the racks, and I found a few treasures of my own. I always pick about thirty things to try on, and usually only 3 or 4 fit well enough to consider buying. I had a promising-looking pink t-shirt among my treasures, but when I put it on, the neckline plunged so low I was afraid it would end up in Antarctica.
"Mommy, that's so pretty!" my youngest son said, staring up at me as I tugged the V-neck up and up and up.
"The neckline is too low," I said.
"But, Mommy, you can wear a shirt under it," he said.
"I don't know..."
Then came the line that made me know he was a plant, a miniature D.I. salesman, "But, Mommy, it makes you look young again."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What a Way to Get A Job!

by Shirley Bahlmann
It's a curious thing... for the last couple of years, my husband, Bob, has aspired to work as Sports Editor for the local newspaper. He's an award winning sports writer, after all, and being the editor means he would have his hand in all of the sports. (Why he'd want to juggle basketballs, baseballs, volleyballs and footballs while kicking soccer balls is beyond me, but he seems to really like it.) He's talked to the owner more than once about hiring him, and she's always lamented that, although she'd love to have him on staff, money for his salary was a problem.
Then, yesterday, she left a cryptic message on our answering machine. "Bob, I need to talk to you about a couple of things. One is a story idea, and the other thing is bigger. Call me back."
When Bob finally got hold of her, she revealed that her current sports editor was caught breaking into the newspaper office, trying to steal money. When the police tested him for drugs, he was positive for meth, and also had ecstasy in his possession. Suffice it to say, he no longer works for the newspaper, so the owner hired Bob on the spot. Bob was grinning in his sleep last night.
Life can be more surprising than novels.
Boo! (You weren't expecting that, were you?)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Happy Unexpected Boost

by Shirley Bahlmann
I was editing like a madwoman, holding my laptop on, well, my lap, while my youngest son was in bed. He was supposed to go to sleep, but seemed restless. (I've sat guard duty by his bedside ever since I found his older brother hiding beneath the bed wearing a glow-in-the-dark hockey mask, just waiting until I left to crawl out and scare the bejeebers out of his little brother.)
Okay, that's another post. My son flipped and flopped and sighed and moaned. Finally, he said, "Mom, will you read me a story?"
I really just wanted to keep writing, but he's only little for awhile. So on impulse I opened a new window and pulled up a novel I was halfway through writing before I started editing my son's book. I began reading out loud, and to my surprise, the first draft chapters flowed better than the single chapter I'd re-worked to death and sweated over before submitting to an editor for evaluation. That one chapter was stiff and crusty with flowery description and far too clever ways of saying things. It was a relief to get back on the smooth road of my original writing.
So, there you have it. I'm a great instinctive writer! Over-writing is unnecessary and time consuming.
So trust your instincts!
Thank you, and good night.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

SURPRISE PACKAGES - who waves a swim wrap at Clark Gable?

by Shirley Bahlmann
“Surprise Packages,” by authors Carroll Morris, Lael Littke, and Nancy Anderson is an epic volume covering years, like “Gone With the Wind.” It follows the lives of three women (hm… three protagonists… three authors… yeah, that works) who’ve been friends for, I don’t know, ever? Or maybe just from the time they met at Education Week in 1980.
These ladies are tight, I mean old-fashioned rubber girdle tight, turning to each other for help in dealing with children, spouses, neighbors, in-laws and outlaws. The problems range from prescription drug abuse to divorce, remarriage, interfaith engagements, and kicking the dog.
This book is several layers deep, including emails, narration, and dialog, with each of the women taking turns sharing their news from celebrations to dilemmas. If you can get to a place where you care about the characters, it’s like reading the big, fat, juicy family newsletter you always wish you had. Even the odd swear word is bleeped out by curlicues and exclamation marks.
And names – oh, if you like unusual names, just wait until you feast your eyes on the likes of Shoshana, Rhiannan, Juneau, Evvy, Willadene (or Deenie, she answers to both), Sahrita, Beto, Flower Telford, and Ira. It’s like a big Hollywood production, with a cast of thousands.
This book is not the type I usually read. It was a bit too fast paced and multi-layered to sit on my favorites shelf, but maybe that’s because I didn’t read the earlier books in the series. It’s possible that one other reason it didn’t resonate deeply with me is that I don’t have any girlfriends as involved in my life as Deenie, Juneau, and Erin are in each others’. But then, I grew up in the middle of six sisters. As I turned page after page, I found that the cast of thousands didn’t always have faces I recognized. Yet I found myself pulled forward to see if I could catch the next thread in the life of Beto and Nicole, the star crossed lovers. And I was rather interested in the outcome of Dex (who I privately nicknamed “Dex, Tyrannosaurus Rex.”) Not everything wraps up with a perfect, pretty bow, which is life, and I like that about this book. I also like the hopeful ending.
If you let yourself read along and sink into the lives of this amusing, insightful trio, they’ll wrap their loving arms around you and draw you into the story.
Plus you have to like reading other people’s emails.
Be sure to clear your calendar for nearly 400 pages full of drama and joy.

Shirley: Ah, Tahiti! I’ve wanted to visit this place ever since I read, “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
Nancy: Thanks, Shirley, for taking us on this all-expense-paid trip to Tahiti.
Lael: When I first saw “Mutiny,” it starred Clark Gable. I’d appreciate if you’d nudge me if he passes by -- unless, of course, he has Scarlett O’Hara with him.

Shirley: Oh, you’d give her a run for her money. You all look so nice in your tropical wraps. I’m wrapping mine around my shoulders. Warding off sunburn, you know.
Lael: I’m wrapping mine around my whole bod because I’m too old to sit around in a bikini. Oh, you say this isn’t a bikini? Well, I guess I’ve put on more weight than I thought.
Shirley: Ahem. That’s why my wrap reaches my ankles. Let’s go sit at the table under this umbrella and stare at the ocean. I just watched a documentary on sharks, so this is close as I get. There. All settled? Anyone want something to drink, perhaps liquid refreshment served in a coconut shell or crab claw?
Nancy: I think I’ll go for something softer with a little less bite.
Shirley: All right. Umbrella drinks all around. How long have the three of you been friends? Are you as close as your characters in “Surprise Packages?”
Carroll: I’ve known Nancy since she was a little dark-haired bundle—she and I are real sisters. I met Lael, our almost sister, at a mutual friend’s home in Minnesota in the 80s, but the three of us didn’t get together until we attended Women’s Conference at BYU and ended up on the same shuttle bus. We offered to share the food in our cooler with Lael. The rest is history.
Lael: I’ll always take a free lunch. Hint, hint.

Shirley: How many books have you written together, including this one?
Nancy: This series of three is our first joint effort, and we thought our last. Until Lael started being haunted by a whole new set of characters that came in a set of three.
Shirley: Well, writers can’t really stop those ideas from taking over their minds. Oh, here come our drinks. Look at the cute little umbrellas! They won’t keep us dry in a tropical storm, but at least they kept the bugs out of the drinks. Here goes… ouch! Oh. Take out the little umbrella first or it might get up your nose.
I’m really curious how you decided on your character names. Did you toss a dictionary in a blender and draw out scraps of paper to see what they spelled? Some of those monikers are jim-dandies.
Carroll: Nancy and Lael are the wizards in that regard. Go for it, girls.
Lael: Apparently you’ve never lived in a small Idaho Mormon town, Shirley. If you had, you wouldn’t think they were so strange.
Nancy: Or in the South. I have a daughter in Georgia. When we visit there, I’ve kept a list of the unusual names I’ve heard. That got me interested in researching historic names from the history of the southern states. What a fun read aloud those lists were. That’s where most of the names for Florida characters came from. To be fair, some of our less inspired names must seem weird to the folks down South.

Shirley: Okay, I’ll admit it, Shirley’s a weird name, too.
Lael: We had a Stake President named Shirley Palmer in Idaho when I was in high school. And no, we weren’t giving women the priesthood. Shirley was a guy.
Shirley: There are so many interwoven threads in your book. How do you keep them from tangling?
Lael: I’m not sure we did keep them from tangling.
Carroll: I’m not sure we even wanted to! With the characters being so close for over twenty-five years, it was inevitable that the threads of lives would intertwine. The important thing was to knot off those threads in a way that held the whole together.
Nancy: I thought they wove themselves together in the most unexpected way. Sometimes we wrote parallel story lines without realizing it. They often went together like puzzle pieces when we started combining them.

Shirley: Well, I admire your ability to write together. It’s really quite a good idea. You each write a third of the book, and when it comes out, you’re pleasantly surprised at how thick it is!
Carroll: Actually, we were surprised at how thin the book is. Each of us had written enough material for a book—and DB gave us a word limit of 114,000! So, many full scenes shrank down to vignettes and other scenes and minor characters disappeared completely.
Shirley: I’m intrigued by your COB anagram. Crusty Old Broads? Where did that come from? What does it take to “join the club?”
Lael: It came from a character named Gabby Farnsworth in the first book. Her grandson is angry at her and calls her a crazy old broad. She later tells the three women who are staying with her that “I don’t object to the ‘old broad’ part. There’s something of longevity and strength in those words. It’s the choice of adjectives that I don’t like.” Juneau suggests crusty as a replacement for crazy, and the anagram COB was born. And to join the club, you have to deal with whatever life brings you, then pull up your socks and move forward.
Shirley: Hm. I’ll have to change out of my flip flops. Well, well. Look over there, ladies, there’s a tall and tan and young and handsome guy walking along the beach. Do you think it’s…? No, it can’t be. But it is! No, Lael, sit down and quit waving your swim wrap like a flag. It’s not Clark Gable. It’s the guy from Ipanema! I’ve always wanted to meet him, but he just doesn’t see. Maybe it would make a difference if he’d take off those dark sunglasses. I’m going to see if he wants to samba. You ladies go right ahead and work on your tans and your next fun writing project. Do you have any more triple author delights in the blender?
Nancy: You never can tell what will come when characters start showing up in triplets like those nibbling at Lael’s thoughts. For now the working answer is yes, but no more series. Right ladies?
Carroll: Right!
Lael: No more series.

Shirley: Well, it will be fun to see what you come up with next. Thanks for meeting me here today. Have a great vacation. Oh, I heard they’re providing return trip rowboats to offset high gas prices. But look at it this way: each of you will only be rowing one third of the time.
Lael: I knew there was a catch to this all-expense-paid deal. And watch out for that Ipanema dude. He looks like a slicker to me.

· Paperback: 400 pages
· Publisher: Deseret Book (May 14, 2008)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 1590389085
· ISBN-13: 978-1590389089

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Enjoying the Journey," with flip flops in a 5-star restarant!

by Shirley Bahlmann
Everyone loves a super hero. That’s what authors Theler and Talmadge say in their book “Enjoying The Journey,” where one of my favorite phrases is, “Don’t read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.”
With humor and gentle insight, the authors take on the meaty subject of life, season it with anecdotes, and garnish it with scripture, making it easy for the reader to digest. They cover timely topics for today’s world, from overcoming depression and despair to the importance of family.
My heart lifted to read the reassuring words that we will recognize God when we see him. It’s just that for now, we’ve simply forgotten his face. I learned that I don’t want to be a whiny child in God’s eyes.
Okay, I’ll admit it; I’ve been depressed in my life. But Theler’s and Talmadge’s words made me truly believe that we are Father’s BELOVED sons and daughters. Riding on the waves of the friendly, conversational writing style, I could read the phrase, “Knowledge of our eternal identity is a potent antidepressant” with a chuckle instead of a gag reflex.
I also renewed friendship with the Holy Ghost when the authors reminded me that He can replace anger, anxiety, and despair with love, faith, and joy. Now that, I can live with.
While some people would count this the best part, in my Primary-geared mind, there’s a spot or two where a pack of scripture quotes got a little lengthy for me, like a little too much garlic in the sauce. Yet every scripture pertained to the subject, and it only matters if you’re not terribly fond of garlic, because overall the book had an amazing blend of personal stories, quotes, scripture and text that made it delicious to my soul. And for those of us who do best with paint-by-numbers, there are helpful lists of simple steps to take toward your goal at the end of each chapter. Bless you for a summary I can wrap my brain around.
After reading this pivotal book, I feel like saying better prayers. I’m encouraged to exercise greater faith, and I’m not ashamed to admit that Chapter 10 had me in tears.
This book offers encouragement without the guilt and insights without the confusion. So pull up a chair, tuck in your napkin, and get ready to read to your soul’s content.

Shirley: Ooo, it smells so good in here. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a 5-star restaurant. The neon star on the local “Brite Spot” eatery is missing one of its points. Where’s your favorite place to eat?
Jaime - The last year or so I’ve been leaning toward Mexican food, but I go in phases. Next year will probably be Italian or Chinese. Last summer we found a Mexican restaurant on a family vacation to southern California that I still dream about. It was so good that we contemplated making an hour detour on our 10 hour drive home from Disneyland last fall, until we decided that no chimichanga was worth two more hours in the car. Around here, I’m really fond of Café Rio. (Looking around self-consciously) I haven’t been to many 5-star restaurants. Perhaps I should have worn something nicer than flip flops.
Deborah – I’m a Wendy’s kind of gal. Huge hamburgers are the best. My parents owned a drive-in, so I grew up on the stuff; shakes, fries, hotdogs, hamburgers, onion rings, ice cream. My very favorite though, are a couple of places in Italy, one in Urbino and one in Stressa. Real Italian lasagna is so much better than anything you can get in the United States. No meat and dripping with lots of yummy cheese.
Shirley: (looking over the shiny menu) I wonder how they decide what dishes to serve. Speaking of deciding, what made you decide to write, “Enjoying the Journey?”
Jaime – I think they just have a wheel with fancy sounding dishes and the chef spins it and throw expensive knives like darts to choose the specials of the week. Hey, I feel a character idea coming on. Do you have a piece of paper? I would write it all down on the napkin, but these are cloth. Writing by napkin worked for J.K. Rowling…
Deborah: You know, the first time I ever heard about writers using napkins to jot their notes on was in the book Turn Not Pale Beloved Snail, by Jacqueline Jackson. And that was in 1976. So you might say Rowling stole the idea. Sort of. Albert Speer wrote on toilet paper while in Spandau. You know whatever works… This chef’s salad looks good.

Jaime – Sorry, back to your question. The idea for “Enjoying the Journey” had actually been bouncing around in my head for years. It began at a time when I was feeling awkward, lonely, and struggling to figure out life with three demanding children. I listened to a talk by Sheri Dew where she said, “No woman is more persuasive, no woman has greater influence for good, no woman is a more vibrant instrument in the hands of the Lord than a woman of God who is thrilled to be who she is.” Those words really hit me, and I thought, “I want to be thrilled to be who I am!” I wanted to shine with joy like others I have known. The tricky part was how to do that. So “Enjoying the Journey” was something I had to write for myself, to find my own answers. I just hoped there were others out there in the same boat. My mom assured me that there were, and she became my sounding board.
Deborah - I often sit on the stand in sacrament meeting because I’ve been the Ward Chorister and other times have substituted. I watched the expressions on everyone’s faces and very few ever looked like they were glad to be there. Most of them had this clenched, “I’m here because I’m supposed to be, and I’m going to stick it out if it’s the last thing I ever do” look. I wondered if they had permission to leave if they would. And gladly. Then one time a new Bishopric counselor thought it would be a good idea to cancel classes because it was Easter. The building was empty in only fifteen minutes. A few stayed because they weren’t sure it was all right to cancel.
When Jaime told me about her idea, I thought it was a great one. I know I have struggled with being happy about all the things we are supposed to do. I have felt more pressure than joy in being a member of the Church for a good part of my life.

Shirley: How many books have you written so far?
Jaime - We have written two books together, our first book, “Parenting the Ephraim’s Child” and “Enjoying the Journey.” “Parenting the Ephraim’s Child” was another book I needed for myself, that just happens to help others too.
Deborah: And before that I had two fantasy books published as well, “The Apprentice” and “The Heldan.”

Shirley: Hey, look at this, pate de foie gras. That sounds good.
Jaime: Uh, Shirley, that’s goose liver.
Shirley: (Pulling pressed linen napkin folded like a swan to her face to hide the look of horror.) Maybe I’ll have the escargot instead.
Deborah: Do you like snails?
Shirley: I’ve never become personally acquainted with one.
Deborah: No, to eat. Escargot are cooked snails.
Shirley: What? Can’t they afford to serve anything in this place besides goose guts and garden pests?
Deborah: I took a survival course once, and had to eat snails. We were required to eat everything given to us or we would be kicked out. It was like eating an eraser. I don’t know if American snails qualifies for Escargot though.
Shirley: (Mops forehead with napkin.) Maybe I’ll just order a hamburger. How do you say that in French? Haum-bair-gair? Hey, have either of you ever been depressed?
Jaime - I am generally optimistic, but just before writing “Enjoying the Journey” I had a period of time where I felt really down. I don’t know if I’d classify it as a depression, but definitely an extended low point in my life.
Deborah: I have battled with depression off and on for a long time.

Shirley: It feels like you have the knack of reaching through the pages with a warm, helping hand. Do either of you have a degree in counseling?
Jaime – Not really. (laughs) I actually graduated from college in Physical Therapy. I guess you are sort of a counselor in that field. I just try to see things from another’s point of view, and treat others like we’re in the same boat. We’re all brothers and sisters, after all, and we should help and lift each other.
Deborah - I don’t have any counseling experience either. I double majored in Piano Performance and Geology. Rock music. Have you ever read “Crystal Singer?” One of my favorites. The hills are alive with the sound, and all that.

Shirley: Let’s move on to dessert. (Narrowing suspicious eyes at the menu.) What’s Glace?
Jaime and Deborah: That’s ice cream.
Shirley: That’s perfect! But how did you say that at the same time? You sounded like echoes of each other!
Deborah: Death by Chocolate looks good.
Jaime: Yuck.
Deborah: Hot Fudge Sundae? (Teasing)
Jamie: Yuck.

Shirley: How do the two of you work to write a book together?
Jaime – We love email! Unlimited long distance helps a whole lot too. We talk over ideas, and then send chapters back and forth to each other until we get it right. It works a lot better than you might think, and it’s fun to have someone else to discuss all the little things with. Sometimes as authors you are so wrapped up in your project that you forget others don’t want to hammer out all the details. My husband gets this glazed look in his eyes sometimes.
Deborah: But Jason is really a great editor. He’s grueling. If he didn’t understand what we tried to say then we knew it had to be reworked. Driving around to book signings was fun too. We really could get into discussions.
Shirley: What’s your next writing project?
Jaime – We’re actually going separate ways for our next projects. (reaches out to hug Mom) Not because we don’t want to write together, but we both have stories in our heads that need to get out. I wanted to take a little break from non-fiction, but there are more of those ideas that I will probably write as well.
Deborah - She’s actually pretty good at fiction.

Shirley: (wiping mouth with napkin.) Ahhh. That was good. Thank you for meeting me here. (pause)
Jaime: What?
Shirley: You’ve got something green stuck in your teeth. (Politely looks away.)
Jaime: At least I didn’t spill it all down the front of me this time. I should probably pack a bib.
Shirley: The publisher is footing the bill, right? I suppose we ought to leave a tip, even though you can’t read the menu in plain English. (Reaches in bag, pulls out “Enjoying the Journey,” and lays it on the table.) There they go. Food for their souls. (Stands up.) Okay, Jaime, leave the enamel on, the green stuff’s gone. (Starts for door, then turns to Jaime and Deborah) Hey, I know! Next time let’s eat at the “Cow Palace Lanes.” Yes, we should. They deodorize the bowling shoes before they stick them under the counter beside the dining area, and believe it or not, they serve killer-good fried onions. Just be sure to wipe your fingers before you roll a bowling ball.
Jaime: Sounds like a place with the menu in English. It might have bibs, too. Although, I don’t know about the bowling. I went a few weeks ago and my score was really bad. Like, under 65 bad.
Deborah: My best bowling score was 83. And I got the trophy for best improvement. That was thirty years ago.

Jaime: Maybe we just better stick to writing, huh? Thanks so much for meeting with us Shirley!

# Paperback: 170 pages
# Publisher: Cedar Fort Inc. (March 10, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0882908391
# ISBN-13: 978-0882908397
# Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches