Posts by Heidi Shayla

Single Fathers: My Heroes

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Every year about this time I like to give a shout out to single fathers. You hear a lot about the good single moms out there, and people are starting to use the more gender-neutral term “single parents” to include dads. But I want to say a special THANK YOU to the men in the world who are singlehandedly raising their kids without a partner in the picture—who are working a full time job or a couple of part time ones to make ends meet, who are paying the rent and the bills while doing the cooking, the cleaning, the hair brushing, the bathing, and feeding, and shopping, and lawn mowing, and story reading, who are figuring out childcare, and teacher conferences, and sports practices or music lessons, to the men who are doing all the work of two people by themselves. Thank you for being the repairer of broken toys and broken hearts.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the single father who raised me. continue reading >>

Living in a Cornucopia: Small Scale Urban Gardening

Garden Vegetable Harvest

As you might already know, I’m on a quest to grow as much of my family’s food as possible on our ¼-acre “urban homestead.”

The better portion of our yard is devoted to food of one sort or another—vegetable Resilient Gardenergarden, berries, fruit trees, chickens, etc.—and each year we’ve been working ourselves closer to the principles espoused by Oregon author, Carol Deppe, in her book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. We are growing more “key crops” like potatoes and dried beans: things that can be canned, dried or frozen for winter eating. continue reading >>

National Beheading Day

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September 2nd is National Beheading Day—which would make a lot more sense if it were International Beheading Day, because then it would take into account some fascinating history. For instance… continue reading >>

Rediscovering Dinosaurs

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I love it when I find new authors in unexpected places. For instance, this year, my husband and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary at a gorgeous bungalow in the high desert in Central Oregon, and spent the week hiking, hot tubbing and reading books out loud to each other. Like any good vacation rental, it had a small library… although this particular collection looked like someone had picked it up at an estate sale; every title was printed prior to 1960. So there were some classics, a lot of Readers Digest Condensed Books and, happily, a variety of nonfiction titles about geology and anthropology. Nosing around in this section, we discovered a couple of books by Roy Chapman Andrews.

Never heard of him? Me either. It turns out, however, that in his day, Roy Chapman Andrews was a famous explorer and anthropologist whose life was allegedly the basis for the fictional character of Indiana Jones. continue reading >>

Little Books: Why Short Novels Keep Me Reading

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I would love to be an avid reader, the kind of person who devours books by the truckload. I used to be. Back before I had a full adult life, back when I had time to spend my spare hours reading, I inhaled novels like oxygen. Now my “spare” hours are full of all the things that I couldn’t get done during my “work” hours. I read in between things now—on the bus in between work and home, in the parking lot while I wait for my husband to come out of a store, in waiting rooms whenever I have to go to the doctor/salon/veterinarian/etc., and sometimes when I’m walking down the sidewalk. (I have been known to walk into things doing this, and once tripped over a curb and landed flat out on the sidewalk in front of busy morning work traffic, so this is not a practice I recommend, except for desperate readers.)

Because my current reading life is conducted in such short snippets of time, I’ve lately been singing the praises of smaller novels, what I fondly refer to as “little books.” continue reading >>

Reading Book Series: An Exercise in Torture

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I’ve read myself into a really frustrating situation. I should say at the get go that I have a love/hate relationship with reading book series. I love the anticipation of the next book, but I’m less fond of being at the mercy of publication dates. I’m left with unfinished characters and unresolved issues until the next book is released, which might take years. These days, it’s possible to spend your whole life reading a particularly long series, one cliffhanger ending at a time.

Even though I’m fully aware that I’m an impatient reader and that it drives me buggy to spend so long wondering and waiting, I’ve somehow managed to get myself waist deep in not just one, but four trilogies. By “waist deep” I mean I’ve read the first two books in each series and I’m now waiting around for the authors to give me the final installment. Why would I put myself in this torturous position? Primarily, I blame Glen Duncan, Josh Bazell and Justin Cronin, although Deborah Harkness gets a little of my reader wrath as well. If their books weren’t so good, I wouldn’t have gotten sucked in.

So… continue reading >>

Speculative Fiction, All Grown Up

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction: a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements – Collins Dictionary

When I was ten or eleven years old, I read a post-apocalyptic trilogy, called The Tripods, by John Christopher. Those three books—The White Mountains, The White MountainsCity of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire—set me on a long and happy love affair with speculative fiction. For the next decade or more, I was absorbed by Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Asprin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, all the great science fiction and fantasy authors of my formative years.

Then I went to college and started reading “important” books—the classics and the literary greats. Along the way, my expectations about quality of writing changed. Once I was introduced to truly excellent craftsmanship, there was no going back. Speculative fiction dropped out of my life as I started making room on my bookshelf for the Great American Novels, the Pulitzer Prize winners, the finest examples of art and craft. Boxes of my once beloved science fiction and fantasy novels went to new homes in my friends’ libraries or to the used bookstore.

It turns out, though, that while I was immersing myself in these literary endeavors, speculative fiction was growing up. continue reading >>

The Further Exploits of Grandma Chicken… and a Couple of Books, Too


I recently read with relief that the natural lifespan of a chicken ranges from 7 to 20 years. This means that Grandma Chicken—the giant black Australorp who is the matriarch of our yard—could live another decade. On the positive, we could potentially have ten more years of the sweet old girl, with her funny antics and the way she comes to us every day and squats with her wings out—which means, “Pet me now.”

On the less-than-positive side, ten more years with Grandma means another decade of “rubber eggs.” She is long past her prime egg laying years, but each spring she suddenly gets an urge to do her bit in the henhouse. Unfortunately, her late-in-life eggs don’t have a proper shell. Occasionally she still manages to produce something edible, but the vast majority of the time we end up with something that looks and feels a lot like a deflated balloon full of goop. Spring is well under way here in western Oregon; Grandma has produced three rubber eggs so far, with nary a shell in sight.

From an urban homestead point of view, it makes no sense to keep livestock that don’t contribute anything to the family table. If I lived back on my grandparents’ farm in Deadwood, Oregon, this chicken would have gone to the Big-Broth-Pot-in-the-Sky five years ago. But Grandma Chicken is a smart cookie. continue reading >>

I Used to Be an Irish American

Irish American

For almost thirty years, I thought I was half Irish—descended from a tough Protestant farmer in Northern Ireland who fell in love with a Catholic girl and immigrated to America so he could marry her. They had a perfect immigrant story: a young man and woman in love, facing impossible odds, up against religious intolerance. Ostracized and on the verge of being homeless, they sold everything they could, scraped together all their money and, with not much more than the clothes on their backs, sailed away to America to homestead in the mountains of faraway Oregon.

I loved that stubborn, intrepid couple whose Irish blood flowed through my veins.

Which is one of several reasons why it was a big drag (that’s something of an understatement) when my mother finally confessed that the man on my birth certificate wasn’t actually my father. Not only was I not related to the courageous couple from Northern Ireland, I wasn’t even Irish. continue reading >>

Happy Birthday, Abe!

Happy Birthday, Abe!

I have a thing for Abraham Lincoln. My sister and every one of my female friends would explain to you that, actually, I have a thing for tall, lanky, bearded men who look kind of like my husband—which is true, I admit, but I have a thing for Abe in particular. Let’s call it a “historical crush.” (Although I really like this modern Abe by Tim Shumate!)

You know the deals couples sometimes make with each other—the “freebie,” the “celebrity hall pass,” the deal that if the celebrities of your choice happen to show up naked in your bedroom (say, Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé) you get a free pass to cheat. I want a historical hall pass instead (not that I would close the door to Hugh and Beyoncé, mind you). I could just hand my tall, lanky, bearded husband my time travel hall pass and pop back in time for the weekend… continue reading >>