Books may be grand, but book Authors are civilization’s salvation

I was recently asked to name a few of my favorite authors. I thought it would be an easy question to answer… and then I proceeded to over-think the question. What, exactly, does that mean, favorite author? Isn’t it the same as asking what one’s favorite books might be?

After pondering the question for a time, I decided that, no, one’s favorite authors are not the same as one’s favorite books, as there are books that I adore but don’t care for anything else the author has written, and there are authors whom I’ll read regardless of the genre or topic the new book they’ve written is in.

My beginning criteria for favorite authors quickly became those authors whom I’ve read 4+ books from. I made the definition more than a trilogy, as most authors nowadays will be almost forced by the publisher to write a trilogy for the sake of money, and just because I want to know how the story ends doesn’t mean I really liked the author or the writing. I’m also straying away from authors whom I’ve only read one “story arc” from, meaning that just because the series included seven books, that doesn’t mean they’ve made my favorite authors list. While this leaves out the wonderful Harry Potter series, as to date I have had no chance to read any of JK Rowling’s other books or stories, it does provide insight on what I might think makes a good author.

My favorite authors are those whose writing compels me to seek out more of their work, rather than just grabbing the next book in the series. The writing adds to my own soul, if I’m allowed to wax poetic, and I feel the world would be a poorer place without their ability.

And yes, I know I’ve given this question and possible answer WAY too much thought. 🙂

So, here’s my first five. This list is in chronological order of when I first read a book from that author, rather than by if I think they’re the “best”. I hope you find my reading journey from childhood interesting.

Maybe later I’ll write on my favorite book series. It’s also an interesting thought that I can think a particular series amazing/fantastic/must reread many times, and yet never really feel the urge to look up any of the author’s other works. Hmm.

Dana’s Favorite Authors:

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder

I wanted to be Laura for most of my childhood. I had read all of the books in the “main series” by 4th grade, and in 5th grade I gave a presentation on the entire series. In 6th grade I read her biography, and in 8th grade my town librarian helped me to request copies of the articles she had written for the local newspaper in Springfield, MO. In high school I started reading the new books published based on her notes on the lives of her grandparents.

While some of her books discuss Native Americans and African Americans in ways we find unacceptable today, a closer reading of her work shows that she did not agree with everything being said around her, and neither did her parents. She even edited her first edition to correct language about Native Americans that she had not meant as offensive, but later found out it that was. I’ve always loved that about her, that even at nearly 70 she understood that she wasn’t the one who gets to say what’s offensive to oppressed groups. As I grow older, I only learn to appreciate her more.

Isaac Asimov

Image result for Azimov

I’ve read every single work by Asimov that’s been published and is accessible. I even, when I was about 12, started collecting old science fiction magazines that I found at used bookstores so I could read his early stuff. I’ll admit, though, that I’m not a huge fan of the Foundation series.

His short stories are some of the best I’ve ever read, however, and I’ve always emulated my own writing to his. Robbie will always make me cry, and if you don’t like the novelette The Bicentennial Man, then it’s my firm opinion that you don’t have a heart.

Jean Lorrah

Image result for Jean Lorrah

Jean and her writing were crucial to my own development as a writer when I was a teenager. Her Star Trek books are still my all-time favorite, and she’s the first author I had ever written to who responded. She’s the one that really set me down the path of fan fiction, that it was Okay to write about what you love, and her own “fanfics” of Star Trek are still some of my favorite stories ever. Her Savage Empire series is incredible.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Image result for Marion Zimmer Bradley

I found Hawkmistress! in a used bookstore when I was about 14, and then preceded to harass my local library for more of her work. I zipped through the rest of the Darkover series, and then read Mists of Avalon. I then ate up all of her short stories, and was heartbroken when she became ill. The books printed in the Darkover series since her death are good, but they are clearly not the completed work of Bradley.

One of her essays on writing explained that she thought of Lew Alton as “her own voice”, and that was the first time anyone had told me that I could write in a “voice” that society said was a man’s.

Charlotte Brontë

Portrait by George Richmond (1850, chalk on paper)

I’ve re-read Jane Eyre about twice a year at least since my first year of college, and it never gets old. I’ve read her other three published books – Shirley, Villette, and The Professor. I’ve also read her short stories of the Green Dwarf, but I’ve never been able to access her poetry. I’ve read several biographies on her, and heck, I even re-read her letters added to the front of several of her books, honoring certain literary giants of her day. Her writing is beautiful, and her life was tragic. There hasn’t been a movie version yet that I’ve felt did the book justice, though the version with Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds comes close.

Just to point out, many of my favorites here have written what we call “fan fiction” today. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’m also aware that most of my favorites are women, though that wasn’t by design. Maybe I’ll write another blog soon on that specifically. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these amazing writers. And a little bit about me.


Adoption, foster families, and Fictive Kinship

As a professor of Anthropology, I teach students about marriage customs, the importance of kinship to the fabric of societies, and cultural norms surrounding the social obligations one has to the people around you.

Every culture does it differently, but all cultures have what’s called “Fictive Kinship.” From the root “fiction”, fictive kinships are forms of kinship or social ties that are based on neither consanguineal (blood ties) nor affinal (by marriage) ties. But they are hardly “fictional”.

I have a strong personal reason for studying this particular characteristic of kinship, as both of my children are adopted. Every society handles the “legality” of adoption differently. In the historical past, it was uncommon for complete strangers to become responsible for your blood children – family members, no matter how “remote”, were expected to take responsibility for you (think Pollyanna). But when the need for families to take children grew as orphanages of the 19th century fell out of favor (in the U.S. in particular, foster homes began to be preferred by the 1950s, and Foster Care agencies gained government funding by the 1960s –, more and more people began legally adopting children as their own.

Fostering has a long history of acceptance, however, as a way to grant a poor relation social status or teaching them a trade, more in the line of the idea of a “patronage”. In the 16th century, England passed laws allowing the children of parents who were sent to almshouses (effectively homeless shelters, but much, much worse than those of today) to be put into indentured servitude with a family or business until adulthood, usually 18. This practice was then picked up by the young United States of America, and indentured service was still practiced for the children of the poor into the early 20th century.

It’s important to stop here and talk for a moment about how adoption has been used throughout history and in this country as a means of cultural genocide. It wasn’t that long ago that our own government had a formal policy of taking Native American children from their parents for the most ridiculous of reasons and giving the child to a white family to legally adopt, thus forcing Native peoples to “assimilate” into the larger European-based culture in the U.S.

Boarding schools were another way the government tried to force this assimilation, indoctrinating Native children into “white culture” by not allowing them to speak their native languages or learning about the tribal history and tradition ( It’s a shameful legacy of the concept of the “Melting Pot”, affecting thousands of children and families.

In the “Western” cultural system of Lineal Kinship (, where there is a strong understanding of the importance of “mothers” and “fathers”, and an almost culturally entrenched definition of who is or can be “Mom” and “Dad”, adoption was kept secret until just recently. Horror stories of the extremely rare occasions in which the law has taken children from adoptive families to re-place them with birth parents, coupled with a fear of not being perceived as the child’s “real parents”, plus the shame associated with the birth mother “giving away” her child and perhaps the adoptive mother’s own inability to have children, fueled this secrecy. With kinship being so fundamental to our human condition, is it any wonder that it’s so complicated?

The need for all that secrecy, and the shame involved, is still a perception that’s out there today, however, with the first season of Once Upon A Time outlining the fight between an adoptive mother and the birth mother who feels her child is being abused. “He’s my son!” adoptive mother exclaims. “No, he’s MINE!” birth mother yells back, somehow winning the argument with just those words. Can you tell that I’m still a little salty about that scene?

So what does “parenthood” actually mean? What does it mean to be a child’s “mother” or “father”? To be called “Mom” or “Dad”? I’ve actually had people ask me how I planned to create the “maternal bond” between me and my children, as I didn’t give birth to them, and they weren’t originally from any blood relatives, so…. I still am blown away by this question. It’s the idea that it might be “unnatural” to love a child as one’s own that you have no close blood connection to. I will never understand that idea.

I’ve also had many a person ask how my children will be able to create a “sibling bond” between them, as they again are of no close blood relation to each other. To this, I can easily respond with “Sweetie loves Little Dude”. She said from Day 1 that he’s “our baby”, and she even had say in what his name would eventually be. They are truly sister and brother.

I’ve also, though, had many people share with me their own stories of being adopted, or of informally “adopting” others as parents when the relationship between their own legal relations disintegrated. If you’ve ever fussed over what to get someone for a holiday present, that’s a bond that might just be socially binding, meaning that if you shirk your social obligations, there could very well be social consequences.

And there’s the difference between “fostering” and “adoption”: nonwithstanding the “legal” aspect, but when the relationship is recognized within the larger social order, when you have obligations to that person that are socially recognized, that’s a true relation. It might seem a bit “scientific” to boil down relationships this way, but when you hear your child call you “Mama”, the very reason that that’s so special is because you know all of the cultural meanings behind that word, and what it means for this child to call you that name. It means a lifetime of commitment, of worry, of beaming pride, of tears and joy.


On the Oregon Trail

One of the things I’ve been very interested in since my undergraduate days is preservation and conservation. Preservation is the idea of “freezing” something like an artifact in time, preserving a specific moment in history for the future to enopy and learn from. Conservation is the idea of not bulldozing stuff flat, but considering the need to sometimes repurpose historic buildings and the landscape for the needs of today and tomorrow. We have to consider what gets preserved, what might just need to be conserved, and how to do it. But we also must consider what CAN be preserved or conserved. Not only with available time and money, but in the available technology. Simply put, not everything can be, no matter how important it might be.

I’m starting new research using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry (mag) on the Oregon Trail. Since moving to Wyoming, I’m become involved in the unique nature of the Trail through Wyoming, and shown many the actual trail ruts. It’s a visceral connection to a movement that we can hardly imagine today, people picking up everything they own and putting it into a wagon, or a hand-cart, or even just a leather roll on their backs, and walking or riding for weeks and months across this vast country. I’ve seen tears come to the eyes of adults, and children choke up as they look East and West down the Trail. The Trail itself is worth preserving. But how?

I’ve been working with GPR and magetometry for several years. They both have industry and scholarly applications. Here’s the Wikipedia entry for GPR, in case you’re interested: GPR, and here’s the one for magnetometry: Mag. But I’ve never used it on a road before. WyoFile reported on my work last year: Oregon Trail, and I’ve just gotten in from the field this year with even more data.

I had an amazing field crew this year! (Kim Haws pictured)

This project will take years. I’ll post some of the GPR images soon as I process them. But I’m excited. Stay tuned.


Just as a note: I have a formal research permit to conduct this work on federal land. Don’t try this at home, folks!

The magic of the outdoors

My kids LOVE the outdoors. Well, actually, Sweetie’s loved it since about three months old, when I would take her outside and sit in the waning days of our Wyoming summer. Little Dude is a bit more cautious, but really likes water and splash parks.

I think children are naturally attracted to the outdoors, and to nature, but unfortunately, society have a nasty habit of crushing their love and curiosity by the time they’re teenagers. Some of this is because we are all understandably busy, and it is simply easier to put them in front of a tablet than to plan an outing. Some of this is because we as parents don’t have the experience or confidence ourselves in going camping or hiking, and feel overwhelmed with where to start.

I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to my kids. Sweetie seems to genuinely enjoy picking up leaves and rocks and bringing them into the house (no, I’m not exaggerating), and Little Dude loves throwing dirt and mulch into the air, and making piles.

Sweetie in the field!

I think a lot about how my spouse and I are encouraging their interests, and even that we need to support them to have outside interests. How does a parent do it? Especially in the hectic world that we all live in, when most live in urban settings, and might never see a farm until they start school?

I honestly think part of the answer is to allow ourselves to have interests, and to share them with our children. I read them books that I like, we take them to places that we enjoy. That seems to be rubbing off on them both. Heck, I even watch the TV shows I like with them (Doctor Who is her favorite, and I think Little Dude’s got the making of a serious gamer). We love going to “view spots” and just looking around, or stopping spontaneously by the side of the road if we see a historical marker. It keeps their interest, and ours.

The Natural Wildlife Federation has a great website with links and activities for getting kids more interested in the outdoors: Connect Kids and Nature. And there is emerging research that links outdoor time with better mental health – less anxiety and stress – in young children: Children’s Mental Health. Outdoor play extends children’s attention spans, and I’ve even read that there seems to be a connection between nearsightedness and the lack of sunlight a child might receive between 5 and 15 years old. We (as a society) are keeping our children in the house too much, and it’s affecting every part of them.

Child and Nature has some great tips for how to raise an “outdoor kid”, which first and foremost is for you to show them YOUR interest. If you don’t like camping and bugs, that’s fine. Find something else about the outdoors that you can enjoy with your kids. They’ll have a good time if you are. And their best advice: DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE SILLY.

The key seems to be to start early. Which is why we’ll take Sweetie and Little Dude out again tomorrow.

Does your local area have a “rock finding club” on Facebook? It’s a great way to catch their interest. Paint a few rocks and leave them for others to find, and then upload your own finds to the local page for everyone to see. Kids love showing off their hard-won finds!


Why can’t Border agents take donations?

Last blog, Mark handled a tough topic with the academic aplomb I admire him for. But I don’t want him to shoulder all the weight of the heavy topics. There’s a lot going on right now that needs to be talked about and better understood. This week, I’ve been inundated with questions from friends, family, and internet acquaintances about the issues at our southern border today, particularly in the area of donations. ‘Why aren’t they taking donations?’ people are asking.

This is actually part of the law known as The Antideficiency Act, and it prohibits federal agencies from obligations or expending federal funds in advance or in excess of their federal appropriation, and from accepting voluntary services. The earliest version of the act was passed in 1870 after the Civil War, to end the executive branch’s long history of creating coercive deficiencies. Before this legislation was enacted, many agencies, particularly the military, would intentionally run out of money, forcing Congress to provide additional funds to avoid breaching contracts. Some went as far as to spend their entire budget in the first few months of the fiscal year, funding the rest of the year after the fact with additional appropriations from Congress. Not the greatest way to run a country.

Because of this law now, the government can’t spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has already allocated to it. This is meant to keep agencies honest, and not take money from private groups with specific agendas, which could end up working as blackmail. The Act is meant to keep corruption out of the federal government. A link to the nitty-gritty of the law can be found here:

We can talk about why there is a surge of asylum seekers in another post, but the attention on children not having what an average person would consider to be basic hygiene has brought the issue of how these centers are being funded and managed. The federal government is currently paying $775 per child a night at these “Unaccompanied Child Detention Centers”. The reason for the high cost, an official told NBC News, is that the sudden need to bring in security, air conditioning, medical workers, etc., is much higher than the cost for structures that are already permanently staffed.

Another issue is that the system of detention facilities managed by the Border Patrol was never designed to house children, and the federal funding allocated yearly to the Border Patrol was never expected to cover the costs of housing children for more than a couple of hours. One can have a discussion about why many of these children have been separated from their families while requesting asylum, I suppose, but it’s difficult to find a reasonable argument as to why the Border Patrol are being tasked with housing them. It is simply not a function they are equipped to do. It’s a bit like asking car factory to start making diapers overnight.

Charity and the collection of donations in times of crisis is a big part of the American identity. We are all usually grateful when we have the ability to help. Patrick Rooney wrote an article synthesizing data on how much Americans give during emergencies, and who. You can read his work here:, but he doesn’t really explain why we give.

Recently, the Justice Department was asked to explain why detainees were not regularly being given such hygiene products as soap and toothbrushes, when the detainees have been stripped of most items as they are processed. the lawyer for the government made a poor showing, trying to explain that the children, especially, weren’t expected to stay in the facilities for more than a couple of days, so not having the chance to bathe wasn’t that big a deal. And it wouldn’t be, if the children were only staying a couple of days. But it has been documented that many children have been in these centers for weeks, as some as long as a month without adequate clothes, soap or washing facilities, and without beds.

Funding bills have passed both the House and the Senate as of today, and the bills will now go to through the process of Reconciliation before being sent to the President’s desk. But many in the House and the Senate are concerned that neither bill has protections to keep the money meant for humanitarian aid from being diverted to enforcement. So, the next few weeks will show us what type of government we truly have.

And yes, it’s even more complex than what you’ve just read, if we consider that different centers are operated by contractors to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which then function under a different set of rules, depending if they are a registered non-profit or a for-profit organization.

But I think a reconsideration of the Antideficiency Act may be important. When we as Americans see that there is a dire need, we do not want to be told by our government that we can’t help. That’s never going to be a good answer.

Please feel free to leave comments, particularly any clarifying information, as this story is still fluid.