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[sticky post] 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.

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 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" Joseph 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.)


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

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?

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.

My 2019 Philcon Schedule

I've just received my Philcon schedule for 2019, and I'm excited! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on these topics. Are there specific things I should mention? Specific movies and/or TV shows to bring up in the "Why, Hollywood, Why???" or "Cancelled Before Their Time" panels? And what SF and fiction books for children would you recommend (either ones you remember loving or ones that children you know enjoy).

Sat 12:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)

[Panelists: Hildy Silverman (mod), Richard Stout, Christine Norris, Alyce Wilson]

July gave us quite a ride with the third installment of this "SF meets horror meets D&D in the 80's" themed series. How has the combination of nostalgia, homage, and original story working to give us a tale that feels both modern and era-appropriate? Will the fourth season open the rift again, or give us a new antagonist

Sat 5:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)

[Panelists: Jeff Warner (mod), Daniel Persons, Matt Black, Tony Finan, Daniel Kimmel, Alyce Wilson]

Our childhoods are being plundered by Hollywood as networks and studios are rebooting, remaking, and re-imagining anything they can without apparent care for the quality of the resulting product. Why do this instead of developing original properties? Are any of the recent rehashes worth watching

Sat 10:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)

[Panelists: Tony Finan (mod), Chuck Rothman, Anastasia Holt, Daniel Persons, Theodore Krulik, Alyce Wilson]

Firefly, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, FlashForward, Jericho... So many shows deserved more than season or two they had- didn't they? How do fans deal with the failure of a show to reach its full potential or proper conclusion

Sun 2:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)

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

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?


LJI 11 Week 2: Stay

This is my entry for Week 2 of LJ Idol, Season 11 ([Bad username: http://www.therealljidol.com]. This week's topic is "Living rent-free in your head."

Cradling his too-small body in my arms, I suspected something wrong about this tactile memory. Like a real-life flashback, I held his still form, stroked his oversized alien head. Only a moment before, I had been in a doctor's office, learning disturbing information. He reminded me that before I'd had my son, I'd had a miscarriage and lost a boy.

"Why don't I remember it?" I demanded.

His answer seemed too easy. "Because you got pregnant again so soon afterwards and carried that child to term."

None of it made sense, until I awoke and realized whose dream I'd been having. For several years, since her death, I've been slowly turning into my mother.

Me in October 2019, wearing a pink shirt and looking a bit sad

My mom in December 2013, wearing pink. Those blue eyes, that smile. I see me.

The boy had a name: James. And though he'd only grown inside my mother for about six to eight weeks -- the size of a fingernail, she told me -- I'd always been fascinated by him. My mother got pregnant with me only a short time after the miscarriage. He was the boy who died so that I might live, because if he'd been carried to term, I never would have existed.

For years, I felt my ghostly older brother following me: a protective presence just behind my left shoulder. Once, on a magical night in college, walking through dark trees on a shortcut to my apartment, I thought I glimpsed a being of light, like an outline, behind me. A benevolent young man, slightly older than me.

"Hello, James," I'd said.

I haven't thought of him for years.

In these days since Mom's sudden exit, I've traversed grieving passages -- from sleepless weeping to more normal routines. Always, she lurks beneath surfaces: sometimes, a bon mot she shared with me, sometimes the desire to photograph scenes she would have painted in bright, impossible colors.

Only now I'm realizing the impact of these last several years. I've eaten so much grief I see her in the mirror: from those last days when my sister, brother and I tried to push her past her knee pains to get healthier. I've caught myself biting my lip in thought, the way she did so often.

For months, initially, she'd come to me in sleep, exactly as she'd been. Too painful, upon waking, to remember her gone. So at last, in slumber, I told her, "You're dead!" as one might tell a pesky child.

"I know," she said, sounding hurt. "But I wanted to see how you're doing."

Nothing will ever be the same, I wanted to tell her, hugging her close.

LJI 11 Week 1: Mind/Trip

This is my entry for Week 1 of LJ Idol (therealljidol), Season 11. The topic this week is "Resolution."


A tilted view of a lake and a wooden bridge, as if the photographer is falling down


Who reads a story's ending
first? Abhorrent practice. To leap
past process into knowing. Yet,

how often I wish to fast-
forward through life's
bruises. To reach a point
where I'm knitted together. Healed. Perhaps
stronger. Nearly

a year since a bicep tear
turned my right arm inky blue,
my strength burgeons. Shoulder
twinges still burr my sleep. (An orthopedic
pillow helps.) So unfair, then, how --
in sweaty August -- uneven
pavement twisted
my knee with a pop,
the moment I lifted my eyes from
my path to watch my son
open a gate. By now,
I should have learned. Lately,

when I hurt myself, I have my eyes
on him. My consciousness flies
from my body, a protective cushion
around his movement. Bouncy
and incautious, he sails
over obstacles, living
in the present.

                     - September 26, 2019


LJ Idol Week 0: Meet Mead

This is my LJ Idol (therealljidol) entry for Week 0. The topic is Introduction.
My Mead Five-Star notebook with the aqua vinyl cover could tell stories about me. Nearly as old as my fourth-grade son, my aqua companion has followed me anywhere a keyboard couldn't for the past nine years. Usually with a pen (black ballpoint preferred) tucked into its spiral, Mead is beat-up, heavy with ink and still open to new experiences.

Flipping through the first section of the two-subject notebook is like a Cliff's Notes of my life. The first entry, dated June 14, 2010, chronicles an odd dream I had shortly after my husband and I brought our son home. The handwriting is even worse than my usual cramped mess -- loose and light, the pen barely kissing the page. A sure indication of both sleep deprivation and, most likely, the painkillers I was still on to deal with postnatal pains.
Next page contains a list of ingredients for the three dishes my Mom and sister had made and stuck in the freezer for me, to last me through the baby boot camp that is a newborn. This was after my son began to suffer from gas pains so severe that the pediatrician recommended I cut out foods that are known to produce gas. All the food had onions in it, which was forbidden, so my husband had to cook every meal for me, as I recovered on bed rest. We had no TV in the bedroom, and in those days, no streaming sites on the computer. I listened to the local public radio station all day long, wrote, nursed, napped, and watched the undulating leaves in the trees outside our rented rowhouse in suburban Philly.

Then, some pages of notes during Otakon 2010 (the annual convention celebrating East Asian culture, particularly anime), when I ran Press Relations while my sister served as a live-in nanny in our hotel room. After that year, I took a couple years off as the head of Press Relations, feeling guilty about all the attention it had taken away from my new baby.

A couple of pages of food tracking, before I moved to an app on my phone. I lost 20 pounds almost immediately, still above my pre-pregnancy weight, but I've since gained it all back plus 40 more. I blame age and stress.

Pages of notes from writing panels I attended at that year's Philcon (the annual science fiction convention where my husband and I are panelists) were followed by a handwritten LJ Idol entry, the first of many filling my buddy Mead in these past nine years of parenting. I often find myself writing on the sidelines of my son's activities, like today, in the library as he participates in LEGO Club.

Then, seven pages of poetry, with lines crossed out, but not so much you can't see them. I prefer to write poems by hand, so you can see what you cut out. Sometimes scrapped lines turn up in another work later.

A jump, then, to five years later, notes from a parent meeting before my son, whose online nickname is Kung Fu Panda or KFP, started kindergarten. Mead has chronicled many such events, and since I jump around between the sections in the two-subject notebook, Mead lacks chronological cohesion, flitting about like memories.

Next, a couple short personal narratives about my parenting experience. I don't remember now whether they were for LJ Idol or for the parenting book I shelved indefinitely because of what comes next.
In extremely sober print -- the way I write when I need to make sure someone can read it, unlike my nearly indecipherable crazy-grandmother cursive handwriting -- is the first draft of the obituary for my mother, Vivian Starr, who died suddenly, just before Thanksgiving 2015. After that begin pages and pages of notes dealing with estate business: talking to my lawyer, a list of things to do, finances and expenses, the phone number for the pastor who would perform the funeral. So many people attended the service for my 72-year-old mom that I wished she could have seen how many people showed up to honor her.

More Philcon notes, because we attended it in 2015 anyway, between her death and the funeral. I simply needed something normal away from the misery. (But misery followed me.)

Three more pages of estate notes, an inventory of the valuables within her house. Then a letter to my Mom, and a poem inspired by her. At the bottom of that page, more estate notes.

A page of notes from the first-grade preview, where the school administrators spent more time talking about disciplinary programs than about academics. This marks the date I decided for sure to move us into a better school district. We found an apartment in a nearby suburb with a much better school by late summer, just in time for first grade.

A page of catalogue numbers corresponding to my Mom's hundreds of art pieces, listing the ones my Dad felt should make it into the retrospective art show we hosted a few years after her death, on what would have been my Mom's 75th birthday.  My parents had remained friends, and Dad's apartment above his osteopathic practice served as long-term storage of my Mom's artwork until the show, after which my siblings and I divided them up. Mom would have been a little irked by the way my Dad roamed the art show, talking to visitors about her work. But by then, her wife had taken her bitterness to the opposite end of the country, so there was no one present to object. As I watched him lauding the ethereal light of Mom's pastels and watercolors, I could tell my Dad had never stopped loving her.

That's the last page in the first section of the notebook, and a good place to stop. If I kept going, you'd discover more poetry, the catalogue of my mother's art, a few haphazard journal entries, and notes from my genealogical research. In the past four years, I've found comfort in unraveling the ever-fascinating tapestry of my family's past. Like an archeologist, delving into the details of the people who made me me, and the me that writes in Mead.


Back in Action! LJ Idol

Well, LJ Idol is back to its home on LJ, and I'm happy to announce I'll be participating! 


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