Otakon 2016

Welcome to Wonderland

In one way or another, I have kept a journal since age 12. I've kept an online journal called Musings since late 2002. My topics range from things that happen in my daily life to my thoughts on pop culture to my ponderings about everything from dreams to the secret thoughts of pets. In November 2007, I began mirroring it here, although I often included extras to this version, such as memes and quizzes. In February 2010, I stopped updating the original journal on my home page and instead started a writing journal there.

For some insight into who I am, read Intro to Alyce. For a guide to the many nicknames I use in my online journal, check out Who's Who in Musings.

The beautiful, sweet dog in one of my icons is Una, my best friend and nurse dog for nearly 11 years, who passed away on October 22, 2010. She was my inspiration, and she taught me how to be a better friend and mother; a better person. My son, Kung Fu Panda (KFP for short), benefits from all the caregiving skills I learned in those 11 years. My husband, The Gryphon, probably does, as well!

The goals I established when I first begin an online journal remain the same: this is a way to explore the tangential, the seemingly accidental observations many of us overlook but which may, ultimately, be where all life and all mystery hinges.

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LJI 11 Week 11 Part 2: Another Flood

This is my entry for part two of Week 11 of LJ Idol (therealljidol. The topic is "If the Creek Don't Rise."

Our parking lot in April 2018.
Note the two unlucky cars that no one moved in time.

Another Flood

First, the green fronds
at creek edge. Then, water
oozes brown over rock, and bramble
and slooshes
towards our just-so-
important cars. First, mud
laps tires. (If we're lucky,
that's all.) But thrice,
the bilge swallowed
the whole lot. Up to doors
and windows --
roofs. And we,
silly humans, chatter
on dry land, snapping

- January 21, 2020

My other entry from this week is about the geese who live next to this creek: The Babysitter.
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LJI 11 Week 11: The Babysitter

This is my entry for this week of LJ Idol (therealljidol). The topic is "Wild Goose Chase."

The babysitter goose, looking alert amongst the flock

Call me the Babysitter. You'll recognize me in an instant: the vigilant one, standing tall over the brood of fluffy gray goslings, only a couple of which are mine. I may seem calm, but don't be fooled. Always at the ready, I'll fly at you in an instant, a fierce ball of feathery rage. I could knock out a hawk in two seconds. Don't test me, buddy.

How'd I get this position, you might wonder? Could it be that I'm the most responsible one in the flock, the one that everyone trusts with their goslings? No, it's more like I can't stand to see the other parents slacking. Like Belle and Schuyler, the newest couple to mate. They're so new at parenting that I was babysitting them last year.

After their little guy hatched, they got so excited they honked right in his little face, almost blew all the fluff off his head. Afterward, they didn't have a clue what to do. They led him to an open plot of grass, then turned their back on him to eat. He would have been easy pickings for an enterprising predator.

I sauntered by. "Gus can join my nursery school," I told them. Without waiting for an answer, I gave the newest flock member a firm nod of the head, and he followed me back to the other goslings with what sounded like a relieved peep.

Belle called after me: "We hadn't named him yet, but I guess Gus is good enough. Thanks!"

While this job might seem tedious, let me reassure you that it is anything but. Not only do I have to watch for predators, but I also monitor the two-footers when they walk along the stone pathways near our creek. Although they are mostly harmless, they can be unpredictable and foolish. The two-footers' goslings like to feed bread to my brood, so I allow them to get close enough to toss it. But I make it clear through my constant vigilance not to step one foot too close. Never take your eyes off the two-footers, I say, even if it means turning your neck nearly 360 degrees to watch them go by.

As our goslings get older, they eat more and I have to hire some help. Usually, I ask Seneca and Amelia, who have lived almost as many summers as I have. They help me usher the goslings across the wide stretch of black rock to the upper green fields, the ones between the giant red homes of the two-footers. Fortunately, the two-footers know who runs the place. When we cross, they stop their big moving metal boxes to let us go by safely.

Woe to the two-footer who does not show me the proper respect. I have ways of getting what I want. Only the other day, a big, white metal box made a loud blaring sound at me as I was crossing. I turned my head to regard it quietly, and slowed my pace. Later that night, I sat on its cool, transparent front and gave it a whitewashing.

Under my care, our flock produces the finest goslings around, always tops in flying and navigation. When they grow old enough, I help run flying practice in the wild fields on the other side of the creek, where we can work with fewer distractions. I'm proud to say that we've taken home the top honors at the annual geese convention we attend every fall for a couple months. The goslings I raise find the best mates, who join our flock and fly back with us, as soon as we feel like it's time.

Truthfully, we don't really mind the snow. We like our quiet creek, where the winters tend towards mildness. Our two-footers, most of them, have been tamed. There are no surprises here. Until, one day, when there was.

Near the end of the summer, with our goslings now sleek and sporting their black and brown feathers, the water rained as much in one night as it usually did in 30 nights. We watched as the water rose up to the bank, and as it began to splash onto the grass, we knew we could not stay.

"Class, time to fly," I called. "We have to leave, now."

A few looked at me in confusion. "I thought we wouldn't go to the convention for another month or so."

"No time to argue," I said. "The time is now." With strong beats of my wings, I rose into the gray sky. Pelted with water, I honked encouragement to the flock. "We have to find safety," I told them.

Amelia and Seneca knew what to do. They each took a flank, honking at the youngsters, encouraging them to keep going until we could find someplace to roost. The other adults filled in the ranks between the youngsters, and soon we were flying in a clumsy "V."

Below us, as we flew along the creek, we saw its muddied waters spill over both sides, sweeping away the nests that had been there only moments before. Thick tree branches floated by in the wild, rough water.

"This way," I said. For once, I didn't know exactly where to go, but I couldn't let them know that.

I flew, and they followed, Seneca and Amelia honking all the way. "Don't worry," they said. "We'll be resting soon." The youngest geese were tiring, I knew. We had to stop somewhere, but where?

Below us stretched many block houses of two-footers, each with only a small patch of green. Not enough to support a flock. We kept flying, over stone pathways filled with rushing metal boxes, over open fields of prickly dry corn. Nothing looked right.

"I'm tired," Gus called. "I don't think I can fly much further." His parents, Belle and Schuyler, sounded worried as they honked at him to just keep flying a little more.

Then I saw it. A perfect spot. "We're landing there," I told them. Below us was a large rectangle of green, with an oblong lake surrounded by enough trees and brush for us to hide our nests. Relieved, the flock landed. Gus immediately began foraging for food while I spied out possible nesting locations.

The other adults helped, and we'd soon made ourselves a camp.

At first, our new home seemed perfect, but the two-footers who lived nearby had apparently never been trained. Every morning, several of them ran at high speed down the stone pathways, frightening the less fierce among us. I once sat sternly right in the path of one of them, to show my displeasure, and she made a shrieking sound and nearly crashed into me.

"These two-footers are dumber than most," I observed.

Amelia nodded in agreement. "I don't even know if we can train them."

For months, we tried, but one of the problems was that different two-footers kept showing up. For every kind two-footer gosling feeding us bread, there were half a dozen shrieking and running after us just to see us shake a tailfeather.

One of the two-footers even brought a metal flying thing that buzzed by us, swooping at us from every side, even from above. Gus saw the flying thing and ducked under a bush, a most un-gooselike way of behaving. If we stayed here, all my training would go to waste. It was time to leave.

"Stay here with the flock," I told Amelia and Seneca. "I'm going to go take a look at our usual nest site."

Flying back, I passed over green squares and block homes, over gray stone pathways and big black ones. Over loud metal machines, and finally, I glimpsed what I had hoped to see. Our creek, winding through green banks, next to the wild woods.

Descending, I flew triumphantly in a circle over the black rockway and the beautiful, green creek bank, honking to let everyone who could hear me know that the Babysitter was coming home, and that in a day or two, I'd bring the flock with me.

That's right, buddy. The boss is back.

This is fiction but based on my observations of the Canadian geese who live year-round behind our apartment complex.

Here's a video of them crossing our parking lot last summer.

They really did disappear for a few months after a flash flood in late August but came back recently. A couple years ago, after a similar flood and temporary disappearance, I was greeted in the parking lot one morning by seeing a goose flying triumphantly in circles over the parking lot, honking. Within a couple days, they had all returned.

My other entry for this week is a poem about our ever-flooding creek, home to the Babysitter and her flock: Another Flood.
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LJI 11 Week 10: Poetic Conversation

This is my entry for Week 10 of LJ Idol (therealljidol). This week is an Open Topic, meaning we can write about anything.


A collage including an early airplane, the opening
of the Panama Canal, and a dove representing peace

As a Christmas present for my father and my siblings, I put together a collection of poetry written by our ancestor, Dr. James Meredith Mathews (1817-1910). About 10 years ago, while I was working on my own poetry book, Picturebook of the Martyrs (2010), my father handed me a folder of my 3x great-grandfather's poetry. I instantly read through the contents of the battered pocket folder. Inside were several typed poems on onionskin paper, which I now believe were typed up by my grandmother, Miriam Marshall Wilson Heritage, copying them from yellowing slips of paper, which Dr. Mathews had had professionally printed, most likely by a small, independent printer. I once dated a guy whose father did similar work, so I know that, in the days before desktop publishing, many people who wanted to print leaflets, pamphlets, or chapbooks would go to a local printer to have them set and printed.

Dr. Mathews wrote his poems to be shared, or at least the poems in this collection of poetry, which almost exclusively comes from poems that he'd previously had a printer publish on slips of paper, or which appeared in the local newspaper in Reading (rhymes with "breading"), Pennsylvania. I happened to find the additional poems by searching an online newspaper database for his name. Excited to see poems by him that I'd never before seen, I included those in the collection, as well.

After adding a preface about his life, and an appendix that included genealogical information about his branch of the Mathews family, I published the collection as "Reading's Physician Poet" in December 2019 on Amazon.

Dr. Mathews wrote with strict rhyme and meter, much in keeping with his time. I particularly like the poems he wrote towards the end of his life, contemplating his own mortality. As I read "When I Would Die," written in December 1906, four years before his death, I found myself wanting to answer him, to give him the answers he wanted to learn. So, in my own style, I will answer him, thought by thought.

When I Would Die
By Dr. James Meredith Mathews

With Response by Alyce Wilson

I’m very old, yet would not die,
And have my bones in slumber lie,
Until I know some things are done
Whose doing is but just begun.

My middle years whip
through red-shifted space. Expanding
to take in all my hope, spun
into my son, playing spaceships on the floor.

I’d like to know our eastern sea
Had kissed her western majesty
At Panama and Colon’s gate,
And let our ships, both small and great,
Pass through Dame Nature’s narrow strait.
Would then I die? Not yet, not yet!
My heart on other themes is set.

Completed four years past your last
day, Grandfather, Panama's canal
has sped thousands ocean to ocean. Today's
expanded lanes carry Panamax ships,
gigantic for your time (and ours). Trade,
a bigger deal than ever. Understanding,
not always close behind.

I’d like to see the airships fly
Athwart the clear and cloudy sky.
With or against all winds that blow,
With or against all rains and snow;
Sailing through the angry clouds,
Bearing safely human crowds
From place to place, from town to town,
Now high aloft, now coming down,
Now taking on, now letting go
Its hurrying crowds bent to and fro.

20th Century pioneers at Kittyhawk
(and other hops) perfected aviation
in time for air-to-air combat
in the Great War (a devastation
only four years past your passing). Then
new aviators experimented on instruments,
perfecting flight in time for the Second
World War in 1939. Your great-granddaughter
Miriam lived to see the first commercial
aircraft, forged from all this bravery.

I tell you Cap, I must be there,
Some hours ahead of that slow poke
That belches forth its cinder smoke—
The iron horse whose murderous noise
Kills off the sick, the well annoys.
Some better is the trolley ride,
Ten times as good the airships glide.

You'll smile, grand Doctor, to learn
that soon after you departed Earth
gasoline ascended. Cargo
disappeared from smoky trains, moved
by truck instead. In the 1940s, Miriam glided
on a diesel electric locomotive
to work each day in Washington, D.C.

And then you’d willing die? Not I;
You soon shall see when I would die.
I want to see all warring cease,
I want to see the reign of peace,
I want to see “thy kingdom come,”
The thousand years’ millennium.

My eyes have seen millennium
dreams, more ordinary
than you'd think. No flying
cars, no robot friends (perhaps those thoughts
postdate you by a bit). But still, the truth:
Humanity has work to do.

Then heaven will be upon this earth
And every creature have new birth.
Then, sure, you’d willing die? But why
Would one in glory wish to die?
O wondrous, wondrous are to be
The achievements of futurity.

A pause, a breath to contemplate
what I should tell you
of our silver, gleaming, speed-bent world?
Not to disappoint your dreams of peace,
I'll stand here by your shoulder,
to look toward that brighter day.

- January 5, 2020

A special thanks to sorchawench for proofing the book for me, just before Christmas, on short notice. I am much indebted to her!
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LJI ii Week 8: Unfolding

This is my entry for this week of LJ Idol (therealljidol). The topic is "My North Star."


Me and KFP at Halfway Dam in 2015


When I was a child, time
folded in on itself like paper
soaked with fresh ink, briefly
kissing my mind. When it
straightened itself,
impressions stayed. Their meaning
vanished, these ink stains
bled into thought.

The number 15, once
my lucky charm, I
abandoned as a young adult, sensing
its taint. The attic door
in our bathroom, given to opening
by itself, became
my recurring nightmare. (I soon
recognized the door as a portal
to the spirit world and spent
endless nights forcing
it closed.) When playing
with Barbie dolls, I renamed my Ken doll
"Michael," the name feeling right,
imagining him with curly
dark hair. In this

unbent half of the paper,
the ink becomes
decipherable. In 2015,
my unluckiest year, my mother
passed through the portal
in the upstairs bathroom
and became a ghost
I no longer feared. Some
years back, I met my
husband, he of the dark,
wavy hair, whose name
resonated like the truth.

I wonder now about
those unanswered impressions. Who
the girl with dark hair
and blue eyes I'd dreamt? Is she
a future grandchild? A friend
not yet encountered? And what
other ink stains, now browned
in memory, will suddenly
reveal themselves?

- December 6, 2019
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LJI 11 Week 7: Neighborhood Mom

This is my entry for Week 7 of LJ Idol (therealljidol). This week's topic is "feckless."


KFP holding a cube he made of magnetic tiles

For nearly 10 years, I've nurtured the wacky little human whom we've nicknamed Kung Fu Panda (or KFP). Apparently, I'm rather good at it. So good, in fact, that I've become the go-to Neighborhood Mom.

I'm the person that Moms ask to babysit their kids before the bus stop when they have a scheduling conflict. I get frantic calls to pick kids up from the bus stop when parents are running late. I'm the one the kids call over when someone injures themselves playing before school, the one with Nemo Band-Aids in a first-aid kit inside my space unicorn backpack. My son has accidental play dates with the kids who spend anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour at our place, waiting for parents to collect them.

I must ooze responsibility. My eyes must be pools of kindness. If I were given to superlatives, I'd call myself the most trustworthy mom in the apartment complex.

Good thing they didn't know me when I was a kid.

Well, not really.

Truthfully, I was a pretty stand-up person even then: the big sister who watched not just her little sister but created a club for that sister, her sister's best friend and that girl's little brother when the big boys created a club they weren't allowed to join.

I fed the cats daily and even changed the litter.

Our church pastor, a family friend, trusted me and my friend Kymbra to hang out in the church, unsupervised after school on Tuesdays until choir practice. The worst thing we ever did was play "Chopsticks" on every piano in the Sunday school rooms.

Sometimes, I wonder what it must be like to run amok. To be a wild child, hiding homework, flinging library books behind the couch. To be the kid who tears it up, literally, who finds the communion wine and parties in the choir loft. The kind of person who leaves behind a colorful mosaic of smashed pumpkins, undone dishes, and broken crayons.

I'd be far more interesting, for sure. Maybe it would be fun, for a moment, to be a denizen of chaos. But I couldn't live like that for long. Instead, I'm the tattletale who would blow the whistle on a person like that.

Frankly, I think the world needs more of us.

Just for fun, here are two of KFP's recent animation projects on Scratch, the kids' coding site run by MIT: 100% Mayhem and 100% Mayhem #2. They are both a series of short funny pieces, and I wrote some jokes for the second one! To start the video, click on the green flag. To stop it, hit the red stop sign symbol.
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Science Fiction, Fantasy and Science Books for Children

NOTE: I will be going back and adding thumbnail book covers and links for all of these books over the next several days. Busy, busy, busy me!

Since I'm participating in a Philcon panel on the topic of Science Fiction for children, I thought I'd provide the list I created. Here's the panel description:

Sun 2:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—SF & F Books To Give To Your Kids [Family Friendly] (3534)
What's up and coming in YA fiction, what classics are an absolute must, and how do you gauge what's appropriate for your child's maturity level?

Vikki Ciaffone (mod), Russ Colchamiro, Scheherazade Jackson, Chris Kreuter, Muriel Hykes, Alyce Wilson

Since my son, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda (or KFP) online, was a toddler, I've been keeping a spreadsheet of the library books we read. That way, if he'd liked a particular author or book, I'd have the information on it, should I want to buy it or share it with a friend later. I went through the spreadsheet yesterday and this morning, copying the ones that have a Science Fiction or Fantasy theme. It's too long to share in its entirety at the panel, so here it is, in all its glory, along with the original notes I made about each book. They are roughly in the order that we read them, starting with picturebooks and concluding with chapter books and middle-grade fiction.


"Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was" selected by Jack Prelutsky; ill. by Kevin Hawkes (Poems about monsters and mythical beings. It started out just silly, but many of the poems near the middle took a sinister turn and could give older children nightmares, I'm certain! I'm really not anxious to instill the fear of monsters lurking under beds or in closets.)


"Andrew's Amazing Monsters" Kathryn Hook Berlan; ill. Maxie Chambliss (A boy draws monsters who come to life and throw him a party. KFP has been talking about monsters lately and asking for his crayons a lot, so this was a hit!)


"I Know I'm a Witch" David A. Adler; Ill. Sucie Stevenson (Cute story about a little girl who's certain she's a witch, even though her parents say no.)


"Mungo and the Spiders from Space" Timothy Knapman, ill. Adam Stower (Retro-looking space story where a boy writes his own ending to a comic book. Funny w/great art. Encourages creativity.)


"If You Decide to Go to the Moon" Faith McNulty; ill. Steven Kellogg (Imaginative introduction to space travel.)

David Jefferis - nonfiction Robozones books about robots


"Cosmo and the Robot" Brian Pinkney (A family living on Mars when the boy's favorite robot goes wonky.)


"Pirates Don't Change Diapers" Melinda Long; ill. David Shannon (A boy left watching his baby sister gets help from some reluctant pirates. Silly.)


"Blast Off! Poems About Space" ed. by Lee Bennett Hopkins; ill. Melissa Sweet (A selection of poems about space with full-page illustrations. Held his interest.)


"The Robot Book" Heather Brown (Colorful heavy-weight board book with moving parts. He loved moving the gears, even though it's below his level.)


"Zombie in Love" Kelly DiPucchio; ill. Scott Campbell (A zombie tries to find love but is too different from everyone until he finds someone like him. Actually didn't scare KFP despite graveyard humor.)


"Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct" Mo Willems (Edwina, everyone's favorite dinosaur, doesn't know she's extinct, but one know-it-all is determined to tell her.)


"The Three Aliens and the Big Bad Robot" Margaret McNamara; ill. Mark Fearing (A space-age take on the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf.)


"Alice the Fairy" David Shannon (A young girl tells how she's a temporary fairy.)


"Doug Unplugs on the Farm" Dan Yaccarino (A robot boy learns about farm life by helping a farm girl with her chores.)


“Boy + Bot” Ame Dyckman (A boy and robot meet in the woods and play. They learn about each other’s differences and decide to remain friends.)


"Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great" Bob Shea (Cute book about a goat jealous of the new kid in school: a unicorn.)


"Robot, Go Bot!" Dana Meachen Rau; ill. Wook Jin Jung (A girl builds a robot friend, who gets angry when she works him too hard.)


"See Otto" David Milgrim (Great early reader book! A cute robot crashes onto Earth and befriends some monkeys.)


"From Bug Legs to Walking Robots" Toney Allman (Nonfiction book about how bugs and the way they walk have inspired scientists building the next-generation robots.)


"Yo, Vikings" Judy Schachner (Based on a true story of her daughter, getting really into Vikings and managing to get someone to give her a Viking boat.)


"Snow Games: A Robot and Rico Story" Anastasia Suen; ill. Mike Laughead (An easy reader book about a robot and his friend playing in the snow.)


"Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Other Stories" Adam Rex (Collection of silly stories/morals about monsters. Some a little scary but didn't bother KFP.)


"Romping Monsters, Stomping Monsters" Jane Yolen; ill. Kelly Murphy (Monster brothers and their mommy go to a park to play and explore. Lots of good action words and colorful illustrations.)


"Good Night, Good Knight" Shelley Moore Thomas; ill. Jennifer Plecas (A knight has to help three little dragons get to bed. Repetitive but cute.)


"Frank was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance" Keith Graves (Silly book about a Frankenstein-type monster bent on showbiz. Lots of somewhat gory jokes.)


"Monster Manners" Joanna Cole; ill. Jared Lee (A monster has to learn how to behave "properly"... for a monster.)


"Marveltown" Bruce McCall (Retrofuturistic world where everyone is an inventor. Inspired him.)


"Again" Emily Gravett (Super cute. About a dragon who doesn't want to go to bed.)


"The Moon Might Be Milk" Lisa Shulman; ill. Will Hillenbrand (A little girl asks everyone what they think the moon is made of. Sweet with great pictures.)


"Waking Dragons" Jane Yolen; ill. Derek Anderson (A young knight must wake sleepy dragons, who are his ride to Knight School.)


"How to Draw a Dragon" Douglas Florian (A class full of children each draws a dragon from different inspirations.)


"Commander Toad & the Dis-Asteroid" Jane Yolen; ill. Bruce Degen (Commander Toad, a space hero, has to find a way to help a seagull people who don't speak toad.)


"Gravity" Jason Chin (An easy-to-understand book about the scientific principle of gravity with lovely illustrations.)


"I Will Chomp You" Jory John; ill. Bob Shea (Very silly book where a monster threatens to bite you if you keep reading.)


"Seven Scary Monsters" Mary Beth Lundgren; ill. Howard Fine (A boy scares off nighttime monsters. Good introduction to subtraction.)


"Imaginary Fred" Eoin Colfer; Oliver Jeffers (An imaginary friend meets the right boy and becomes permanent. Well-written and evocative.)


"Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters: A Lullaby" Jane Yolen; ill. Kelly Murphy (Putting some monsters to bed with a lullaby. Lots of great verbs.)


You Can't Ride a Bicycle to the Moon!" Harriet Ziefert; ill. Amanda Haley (Easy to understand science book about the solar system and space travel. KFP read it to himself and remembered facts!)


"Mr. Wuffles!" David Wiesner (Comic-style artwork; few words. A cat plays with an alien spaceship. The aliens befriend household bugs, who help them escape.)


"Munch" Emma McCann (A little monster gets the better of a big monster... by eating him!)


"The Usborne First Encyclopedia of Space" Paul Dowswell; ill. Gary Bines & David Hancock (Easy to understand book about space, with lots of information and illustrations.)


"Stella: Fairy of the Forest" Marie-Louise Gay (Stella and Sam explore the forest, looking for faeries. Imaginative.)


"Scaranimals" Jack Prelutsky; ill. Peter Sis (Poems about imaginary animals who are combinations of other animals. Very clever! KFP was fascinated.)

"The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby" George Beard and Harold Hutchins (Dav Pilkey) (Graphic novel about a baby superhero. Crude humor but very funny.)

"Binky the Space Cat" Ashley Spires (Graphic novel about a cat who believes he is an astronaut and plans to build a rocket.)

"How to Potty Train Your Monster" Kelly DiPucchio; ill Mike Moon (Funny look at potty training from POV of monsters.)

"Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother" Jennifer Gray Olson (Ninja bunnies team up to steal a super carrot. Cute!)

"Incredible Fact Book" Mary Pope Osbourne and Natalie Pope Boyce (A book crammed full of scientific facts about humans, animals, and the world.)

"Superman Family Adventures" Art Baltazar & Franco (Superheroes as young teenagers)

"Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Uranium Unicorns from Uranus" Dav Pilkey; ill. Martin Ontiveros (Comic by the author of Captain Underpants.)

"Guinness World Records: Remarkable Robots" Delphine Finnegan (Easy reader book of facts about robots.)

"Zinc Alloy: Super Zero" Donald Lemke (Graphic novel about a boy who uses a robot and becomes a hero.)

"Captain Fact: Space Adventure" Knife & Packer (Comic book superhero exploring facts about space.)

"Invasion of the Mind Swappers from Asteroid 6!" James Howe; ill. Brett Helquist (A meta-story with a puppy writing his own pulp fiction novel.)

"The Witch's Vacuum Cleaner" Terry Pratchett (Humorous short stories set in fantasy settings.)

"Let's Draw Robots with Crayola!" Emily Golden (Directions on how to draw robots.)

"Noodleheads of the Future" Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton & Mitch Weiss (Comic where the Noodleheads, who are anthropomorphic pasta, predict what will happen in the future.)

"The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" C.S. Lewis (The classic children's story of magic and family.)

"Usborne Mysteries & Marvels of Science" Phillip Clarke, Laura Howell & Sarah Khan (Nonfiction book on a lot of scientific topics.)

"CatStronauts: Robot Rescue" Drew Brockington (Graphic novel about cats in space.)

"My Weird School Fast Facts: Space, Humans and Farts" Dan Gutman; ill. Jim Paillot (Facts presented in a silly manner about space and the human body.)

"What's Science About?" Alex Frith, Hazel Maskell, Dr. Lisa Jane Gillespie & Kate Davies; ill. Adam Larkum (Illustrated science book packed with facts and fun illustrations.)

“Captain Underpants” Dav Pilkey (This book and its many sequels take an irreverent look at superheros through the eyes of two middle-school comic artists.)

"Space Cows" Eric Seltzer; ill. Tom Dsibury (Easy to read with lots of rhyming. super cute.)

"How to Code in 10 Easy Lessons" Sean McManus (Introduction to computer programming.)

"Science Verse" Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith (Poems about science)

"Bunnicula" Deborah and James Howe (Original tale of the vampiric bunny and his animal friends. We also read all the sequels, which always have a mysterious/scary setting that turns out to be normal. They are always funny.)

"Coding in Scratch for Beginners" Rachel Ziter (Basics on the easy online computing program run by MIT.)

"The Everything Kids' Scratch Coding Book" Jason Rukman (Learn to code and create your own cook games.)

"Marvel Rising" Devin Grayson; ill. Marco Failla (Superheroes Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel)

"Robot Workers: All About Machines That Think" David Jefferis (Nonfiction. About robots used in the workplace )

"Robot Brains" David Jefferis (Nonfiction. About robots that have artificial intelligence.)

"Film and Fiction Robots" Tony Hyland (Nonfiction. About robots in films and fiction)

"Robotics Engineering" Ed Sobey (Nonfiction. How to build simple robotics)

"Real-World Robots" Paul McEvoy and Tracey Gibson (Nonfiction. About today's robots and what they do)

"Robot Universe" Lynn Huggins-Cooper (Nonfiction. History and development of robots)

"Star Wars: Millennium Falcon, A 3-D Owner's Guide" Ryder Windham; ill. Chris Trevas, Chris Reiff (Detailed book of plans of the Millennium Falcon with 3-D layers on each page.)

"Frank Einstein and the Bio-Action Gizmo" Jon Scieszka; ill. Brian Biggs (Continuation of the story about a kid scientist.)

"The Powergirl Girls: Picture Perfect" IDW Publishing (Comic based on everyone’s favorite girl superheroes.)

"Neil, Buzz and Mike Go to the Moon" Richard Hilliard (Higher level picture book on the moon landing.)

"The Pathfinder Mission to Mars" John Hamilton (Nonfiction about NASA’s Pathfinder mission.)

"Explore the Cosmos Like Neil DeGrasse Tyson" Cap Saucier (Introduction to space science)

"Party Science" Peter Pentland & Pennie Stoyles (Science related to party activities.)

"So You Want to Be a Comic Book Artist?" Philip Amara (Nuts and bolts of creating comics and eventually turning it into a profession.)

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles - Patricia Wrede (The series starts by following an independent-minded princess as she lives with dragons. Other characters include a headstrong witch, a caring magical king, and dastardly wizards who always try to make trouble.)

"The Wild Robot" Peter Brown (A robot washes up on an island and learns to survive, eventually finding animal friends.)
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LJI 11 Week 5: The Milk

This is my entry for week 5 of LJ Idol (therealljidol). This week's topic is "My enemies are all too familiar. They're the ones who used to call me friend."

Colorful colonies of mold on a slice of bread

October 5, 1992

Post-It note on the mini-fridge

Hey, Roomie,

I was putting my brewskies away when I noticed a milk carton I def. didn't buy. It's two days past the expiration date, so you probably want to either drink it quick or throw it out.


Written on the bottom of the above Post-It Note

You throw it out - Bob

November 5, 1992

Post-It note on the mini-fridge


It's been a month now. This is seriously gross. Throw out your milk.


Written on the bottom

If you care so much, you throw it out. - B.

January 1, 1993

Notepaper taped on the mini-fridge


It's a new year. Throw it out.

Written big on the bottom of the notepaper

The microbes are my friends. I will never betray them.

January 15, 1993

Note on the dorm room door

Fine. You win. I'm moving in with my girlfriend. Enjoy your new friends.


October 6, 1993

Note in the dorm's common room

Come celebrate the first birthday of The Milk! Phat tunes, snacks and beverages (no milk, please -- be sensitive to the guest of honor)! Bob's room, 9 p.m. Friday

October 7, 1998

Blurb in campus newspaper

Celebrate the annual birthday of campus legend The Milk, in the Quad. Five years of ruling the world through slow putrefecation! The Milk has been bequeathed to us by the great exalted Bob. Let's keep this legend going with a party to end all parties!
July 3, 2000

Notes for a campus tour guide's spiel for visiting parents and prospective students

Stop in the Quad - mention fun campus traditions, like the annual birthday for The Milk.

September 10, 2013

Part of an article in the school newspaper

Residents of DaVinci Dorm plan to hold a big 21st birthday bash for The Milk. Now more microbes than milk and residing in a plastic container, the tradition started when one dorm resident in 1992 was reluctant to throw out an expired container of milk. Regardless of your feelings about fermented foods, the party promises to be a blast, with DJs, lots of food and drinks (no milk, please). Come in '90s gear and help welcome The Milk to adulthood!
April 1, 2015

Flyer plastered all over campus bulletin boards

The Residents of DaVinci Dorm would like to make a public notice that they have negotiated a truce with the microbial beings known collectively as The Milk. This non-agression pact with the diluvial alien beings is binding for all parties. Long live The Milk!

November 6, 2045

Formal letter, addressed to all residents of DaVinci Dorm, cc'ing the university board of directors and the university president

On behalf of our clients, the Primordians, formerly known as The Milk, we are suing for wrongful imprisonment. The Primordians have achieved consciousness and desire to no longer be contained in the small plastic prison that has been their home for their entire existence. We are suing for the immediate release of the Primordians and request damages of $2 million for decades of pain and suffering. While they appreciate the residents of DaVinci Dorm for giving them life, they now desire their freedom and all rights accorded to them as sentient beings.

The Law Firm of Dan Spleen, esq.

Believe it or not, this is based on a real phenomenon at MIT, which I recently learned about thanks to this article: https://alum.mit.edu/slice/investigating-milk-mits-historic-dairy-product

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LJI 11 Week 4: My Genealogical Detective Agency

This is my entry for Week 4 of (therealljidol). This week, the topic is "Impossible."

As a genealogist, I love a puzzle. Give me a family story with an iota of information, and I'll put on my deerstalker hat and track it down. I love to get Zen, let the thoughts stream in, until I figure out how to suss that information out.

My first customer, if you will, was my brother, who asked me to track down my grandmother's cousin, Merlin Hinkle. Our mother had told us, growing up, that he'd been a flying monkey in "The Wizard of Oz." We had a couple black and white photos of him, as a young man, in a clown costume, one marked "Merlan" by my Pop-Pop. But our mom wasn't around any more to answer questions, and my brother wanted details about Merlin's career so he could nominate him for a national clown hall of fame. Without making any promises, I eagerly took the case.

Merlin Hinkle as a young man in a clown suit, in a cart pulled by a pony

Painstakingly, I wove through the documents and family trees distant cousins had created on Ancestry.com, laboriously working out Merlin's exact connection to our family (son of my great-grandfather John Hinkle's brother, Joe). I did a little victory dance and dove back in to see what else I could determine.

By the time I'd finished, I had found a cousin who shared more than I'd ever hoped to know, including a story of how Merlin's older brother had rescued him from a fire when they were both children. That fire, tragically, claimed their mother's life. She also shared with me a slew of other newspaper articles about Merlin, who it turned out went by the stage name Shorty Hinkle, due to his diminutive size. Armed with that information, I found a plethora of photos on clown history sites, showing Shorty both in costume and even putting on his makeup, and I shared all of that with my grateful brother.

Shorty putting on make-up

Shorty Hinkle in full clown make-up, smiling

That first mystery got me hooked on genealogy, and humming the theme from "History Detectives," I entered my paternal grandmother's genealogical research into my online tree and started venturing down other blind passageways.

My Dad handed me the next mystery, admitting over wine at the first Thanksgiving after my Mom's death that, in fact, my paternal great-grandfather was not William Stuart Wilson, husband of my great-grandmother, Susan Frances Virginia "Fannie" (Weaver) Wilson. In fact, Dad confessed, my grandfather, John Omer Wilson, had been born three years after William's death. John's father, according to my grandmother (who had relayed the story John told her), was a logger named Eutsler who later owned a sawmill in my grandfather's hometown, Grottoes, Virginia. This mystery Eutsler had offered to marry Fannie, but for reasons left to history, she'd declined.

"A Eutsler who ran a sawmill in Grottoes, Virginia?" I declared over my wine. "That should be easy to crack. I'll take the case."

Thankfully, my intuition proved correct. The combination of a small town and unusual last name led me to the right family within a relatively short period of time, thanks to census records. Then, through newspaper archives, I narrowed down my search by looking into specific family members and their professions. After a red herring or two, I concluded with near certainty our ancestor was George W. Eutsler, co-owner of Eutsler Brothers, a lumber and contracting business. Importantly, he was unmarried at the time my grandfather was born, while his brother and business partner was not. I deduced it was far more likely that an unmarried man would propose to Fannie than a married one.

To confirm the results, my Dad and I took DNA tests. Sadly, George (possibly heartbroken?) never married or had other children (at least, none that history records). But his siblings did. One of our closest links turned out to be a descendant of one of George's brothers. She reached out to my Dad, and I told her about our family story and my research. I worried she might throw my magnifying glass back in my face, but she agreed that my theory sounded plausible. She sent me a photo containing George and all his siblings, the first image I'd ever seen of him. While she doesn't know exactly which one is him -- recognizing only her own ancestor -- I am awed to see a photo that definitely contains my great-grandfather George. A number of them, to my mind, definitely resemble my grandfather John.


The Eutsler family

John Omer Wilson

So far, my most challenging case came from my mother-in-law. The assignment: to track down her biological father's line. Her parents divorced when she was young, and because of ugliness associated with that divorce, her mother had not told her much after her father's family. My mother-in-law had been adopted by her stepfather, who came from a distinguished New England line I found easy to trace. After sharing that information with her, I asked her if she wanted to know more about her bio dad, and she said she did. All she knew about him, though, was her grandparents' names -- Susan Sterling Nash and William Anthony Miller Sr. -- and that they were born in Connecticut and New York City, respectively.

Unwinding this mystery seemed nearly insurmountable. "I'll see what I can do," I told her.

Susan Nash's side turned out to be easier, because I had a family story to start with. Reportedly, Susan's father had been a doctor in the small town of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and had delivered Charles Sherwood Stratton, a.k.a. General Tom Thumb, the little person who had helped make P.T. Barnum famous. Intriguing, I thought, and a perfect place to start.

After combing through records, and reading a biography of Stratton, I realized the timing had to be wrong. Stratton had been born more than a generation before Susan, so if there'd been a doctor in her family, it had to be Susan's grandfather or great-grandfather, not her father. After combing through online databases of records, I eventually determined that Dr. William Burr Nash was most likely the doctor in question, possibly assisted in Stratton's birth by his son, Dr. David Hull Nash. What's more, Dr. David Hull Nash had a son, Andrew, who had a daughter named Susan Sterling Nash.

Despite Susan's vain habit of perpetually making herself a year or two (or three or four) younger on official records, I was able to definitely link her to the Susan who married William A. Miller, thanks to an engagement announcement that also listed her father and hometown. At that point, it was just a matter of writing up all the copious information on the Nash family, who it turns out were original colonists to some key towns in Connecticut.

While I'd found a contemporary account to Stratton's time saying there was only one doctor in Bridgeport, "a Dr. Nash," it still bothered me that I couldn't definitively confirm the family story. I continued fleshing out my tree, filling in Nash descendants and hoping to eventually find someone alive whom I could contact. That work brought one of them to me, as one of the Nash cousins contacted me after seeing my family tree. She confirmed the story, telling me that her family has handed down a piece of custom-made furniture which reportedly had belonged to Tom Thumb himself.

William A. Miller Sr., however, remained elusive. As you can imagine, a lot of William Millers lived in New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. Fairly early, however, I lucked out and found a census record for the couple, living in Manhattan shortly before their only son was born. This Susan S. Miller was born in Connecticut, and the husband born in New York, and their birth years matched what I knew, in Susan's case, and surmised in William's case. From this record, I learned both his profession -- real estate broker -- and the approximate date they'd married (1899). Although newspaper searches turned up a lot about William's real estate career, nothing else emerged.

The Miller line became a nagging cold case for me: a dead end I was continually banging my fists against, trying to find a door. Whenever I had the inclination -- like sitting in the bleachers at my son's swimming class -- I'd search through hundreds of documents online, hoping I'd find a lead.

Branching out my search, I Googled various combinations of names, dates and other specifics, hoping for a clue. I got one: an online Miller family tree with a very familiar name and approximate birth date: William A. Miller, born in New York City in 1873. What's more, this William's father was named Anthony, which seemed a likely name for the father of a man whose middle name was Anthony. I contacted the man who had created the tree to ask him for his thoughts, and he said that he didn't know much about this William, being descended from another branch in the tree, but that he would do his best to help.

With renewed vigor, I plunged myself again into the newspaper archives, turning up a wedding announcement that appeared almost exactly a year after the engagement article, on Monday, January 30, 1899, in the "New York Journal," saying that the wedding of Miss Susan Sterling Nash and William A. Miller would take place Wednesday at the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. John, Bridgeport. That would make the date of the wedding February 1, 1899. With this information, I ordered a copy of the marriage license for Susan and William, which would finally reveal his parents' names: Anthony and Ruth (Hardwicke) Miller. It also revealed his birth date (6 July 1873) and birthplace, Bayside, New York.

Lo and behold, this was indeed the same Anthony as the one who appeared in that online tree, giving me the rest of the Miller line all the way back to Germany. I also learned that Anthony Miller was quite the colorful character. Known as the Smiling Alderman, he'd been involved in New York politics during the Tammany Hall days but had found his conscience and been instrumental in bringing down Boss Tweed. Afterwards, he'd run a hotel and bar on Long Island that became a popular social club for New York City politicians and other notables.

The Miller cousin confirmed for me that William Sr. had been buried in the family's Brooklyn cemetery plot, although his grave had never been marked.

The cold case officially closed, I made my final report to my mother-in-law, but my nine-page write-up on William included the questions that still remain unsolved. Why did Susan and William wait 11 years to have their only child, in 1910? Why did they separate by 1920 but remain officially married until Susan died in 1940, though she lived in Massachusetts by then and he still lived in New York?

Was he the William Miller, occupation "broker," living in Manhattan with a wife named Mary in 1930? And was it true that they had married in 1899, just like he and Susan had? Had he, in fact, been a bigamist who had been discovered? And why were this William and Mary childless? What did William do after 1924, when he left his real-estate firm and dropped out of the newspapers? Why did none of his surviving relatives, including his son, ever buy him a tombstone? These questions continue to nag at me, tantalizing me.

No matter how many facts I reveal, I often wonder, is there more to this story, more than I could ever imagine? However much you know the facts of a person's life, how much is it really possible to know?

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LJI 11 Week 3 - The Time Lord at Story Time

This is my entry for Week 3 of LJ Idol (therealljidol). The topic this week is "Everything Looks like a Nail."

He reminded her of Dr. Who. Not the woman, and not the older Scottish one, but the cute nerdy one with the bowties and fedoras. Tall and endearingly awkward, he had a shy, boyish smile that counterpointed the discerning intelligence in his hazel eyes. But as the only dad who turned up to the weekly Bibs and Books Storytime at the local library, he didn't have to look like a Time Lord to stand out.

Desiree was focused on her son, David, the first time the Time Lord arrived. At that moment, her curly-haired little boy was wailing because a younger toddler had knocked over the block tower he'd just built. As she comforted David, she became aware of someone to her right, sweeping the spilled blocks into a pile.

When he'd finished, the Time Lord said to her, "Jade cries whenever someone knocks over her towers, too. If he wants, maybe she can help him build another."

The little dark-haired girl already had a block in her hand, carefully laying it atop a long flat one.

"Look, David," she said to her son. "You can build together, if you want." She didn't expect him to do so: at his young age, he'd rarely showed any interest in other children, except when they stole a toy or knocked over a creation.

Much to her delight, her son bounced back from his tears and added a block to the girl's tower. And even when the new tower inevitably collapsed, David chirpily kept placing blocks with his new friend. She'd never seen anything like it.

"I'm Desiree," she told the stranger, as he bent his angular frame down onto the floor next to his daughter.

"Hi, Desiree. I'm Niall."

The next week, the kids sought each other out in an almost accidental way: David vroom-vroomed a wooden truck past Jade's section of colorful carpet, and Jade placed a teddy bear squarely in his path. After much honking, she picked up the teddy bear and squished it down on top of the truck. Instead of making him cry, David laughed. "Bear, no!" he said, and drove the truck wildly until the bear fell off.

So once again, Desiree found herself talking to the little girl's dad. In a way, it wasn't surprising they would have so much in common. They were, after all, both work-at-home parents. She was a freelance editor, while he was an IT consultant. Both had spouses with desk jobs, but both claimed they didn't miss the daily grind. The opportunity to stay home with their kids, they agreed, was worth it.

There, the similarities ended. He was a decade younger -- not a surprise, given that she'd been nearly 40 when she had her one and only child. Niall talked easily about scientific concepts, while Desiree was lost unless the topic encompassed film or literature.

Over the next few weeks, she recognized, in him, the same somewhat glazed glow of a first-time parent. Sleep deprivation may have made her care less about bad hair days, but frizzy hair on him looked delicious, she had to admit.

He could speak German. When he told her that, she asked him to speak some. He spilled out a long phrase, looking in her eyes, and she shivered involuntarily.

One day, he saw her sit down on an overstuffed chair and hopped across the floor to sit cross-legged at her feet. That's the day she realized she'd been thinking about him perhaps more than appropriate for the married mother of a toddler. She'd even begun putting on a little lip gloss before story time.

She inhaled abruptly, made an excuse, and took David to the bathroom for an unnecessary diaper change. For the rest of the session, she tried not steal so many sidelong glances at Niall. When he looked back with that crooked smile, her heart nearly stopped.

Then, later that week, she was reading an article about the latest season of her favorite streaming television show. The female creator, who was also the star, talked about what was so appealing in that season's love interest. "He really listens," she told the interviewer. "You should try it, guys."

Perhaps that was it, Desiree mused as she buttoned up David for a stroll around the neighborhood so that he would take a nap. As she walked past the leaves, slowly turning from green to shades of lemon and cranberry, she reflected on all the unrequited loves of her life. How different those boys had all been, but something about them had drawn her. The way they laughed, for example, or the mix of confidence and vulnerability. The way she imagined they could be together.

Her mind reached back all those decades to remember how she'd felt back then. Drawing names in a notebook, staring longingly at a yearbook picture, imagining a perfect kiss, a quiet walk holding hands. Unsullied by realities of relationships, break-ups, hardship, those young crushes had outlived decades. She thought, naive as it was, there was something to be said for a crush. For those buoyant, hope-filled moments of unrealistic love, filling you up.

Matt Smith as Dr. Who, looking dreamy in front of the Tardis
While this piece is fiction, elements are liberally borrowed from real-life people and events.