Saturday, January 30, 2016

Photography Practice

Kevin has a fancy camera, and he takes lovely pictures. He would say the lovely pictures are because of the fancy camera, but everyone has seen uninspired pictures taken on fancy cameras, so I call bullshit on that. He takes lovely pictures because he's good at it. Here's a photo he took of my most recent Halloween costume.

 I was the forest at night.

Next week, I'm leaving on a very (very!) exciting trip. In the past, when I've gone on exciting trips, I've taken photos on my iPhone, and really, considering the phone's limitations, I guess I can't complain. However, next week's trip is extra exciting, and deserves something more. So Kevin is generously sending me off with Fancy Camera.

Fancy Camera is much more complicated than other cameras I've used! Therefore, I've been practicing. This involves things like lining up some shoes on my living room floor, lying down on the rug, and experimenting with focal points and apertures and shutter speeds and other camera words.

If you're wondering how to achieve these amazing results, the answer is, Fiddling With Buttons. I also recommend Hoping For The Best. Please, everybody pray for me while I'm on this trip. I really want to take some pictures that will do my destination justice, and I won't have the time for all this careful fiddling.

Here are a few more random sights I've managed to capture around town while practicing.

 Happy birthday, Mom :o)

 Here in Cambridge, the bus stops are pretty fancy.

 Random hovercraft on my bookshelf.

This is an example of a picture that, while far from brilliant,
 would have been horrendous if taken on my iPhone…

Harvard Square intersection.

Stay tuned next week for pictures from my mystery destination! I promise that even if they aren't very good, they'll be more exciting than shoes on my living room floor.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The common house zebra, when frightened, hides in the sock drawer. (For camouflage.)

This week I discovered that it's astonishingly easy for a person with minimal sewing skills to make a zebra out of socks.

Meet Basil.

It took me maybe two hours to make Basil, no more, no kidding. I used this wonderful sock zebra pattern/tutorial at The Sewing Directory by Caroline Short, with only minor alterations.

Here's how things looked partway through, though those who know Basil
personally may find this picture upsetting and, if so, should avert their eyes.

The quotient of adorableness to effort is very, very, VERY high.

Basil, incidentally, is a sock zebra from the planet Gallifrey.
Consequently he has two hearts, like the Doctor.

Basil likes having cousins. Maybe you should make a sock zebra, too.

The main thing I altered in the pattern is that I wanted Basil to have free arms, separate from his body. If you use tall enough socks (this pair went about halfway up the shin), you'll have enough sock material in the sock you use for the head to create both the ears and a couple of slender arms, which I then hemmed, stuffed, and attached to the torso.

This was so straightforward that I'm not sure why the world isn't overrun with sock zebras.

(Basil says that would be a good thing.)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Some Links to the Ongoing Conversation about Scholastic's Decision to Stop Distribution of A Birthday Cake for George Washington

(These links are by no means exhaustive, but each of them is worth reading, so I wanted to share. Thanks to Becca, Malinda, Sarah, Sarah, Anne, Nancy, and all my friends who keep me in the loop!)

Here's a link to the announcement at Scholastic. An excerpt: "Scholastic is announcing today that we are stopping the distribution of the book entitled A Birthday Cake for George Washington, by Ramin Ganeshram and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, and will accept all returns. While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn."

Here's a perspective from Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, whose research at the University of Pennsylvania includes representations of slavery in children's literature: Children's Literature About Slavery: The Struggle Continues.

Here's Paula Young Lee's perspective at Salon: Smiling slaves at story time: These picture books show why we need more diversity in publishing, too.

Here's Zetta Elliott in the Horn Book: The Writer's Page: Decolonizing the Imagination. (Clarification: this essay was published in 2010. It was not written in response to the recent conversations [unless Elliott is a time traveler, like some of her characters ^_^].)

And here are the thoughts of the book's editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney, who, in addition to being a VP and executive editor at Scholastic, is an African American woman and a Coretta Scott King Award-winner: A Proud Slice of History.

At 5:24 PM edited to add (thanks, Laya):

From Mitali Perkins' blog: WARNING: This Book Might Be Recalled. Read it Fast. Decry it Even Faster.

On Jan 24 edited to add (thanks, Becca):

Michael Twitty, who works at the intersection of cooking, American history, and slavery in the USA, shared his thoughts at The Guardian: What happens when children's books fail to confront the complexity of slavery?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Too Sad

Here's my office wall....

And here's David Bowie, A Life in Pictures.

Rest in peace, Alan Rickman and David Bowie. You were taken too soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


It's ALA Midwinter weekend and I'm eagerly awaiting a call from the Unreliable Blogger Award committee. Maybe you guys lost my number?

So, it's well past the point of apologies here on the blog, but I am sorry I've been so absent, I've missed blogging, and in fact, one of my New Year's resolutions is to ease back into blogging more often. I've been great, all is well, the work is moving along, the next book is on the verge of being scheduled. I have so much to say about it, but can't, until I get the go-ahead. Right now I'm in a stage that the writerly among you might be able to sympathize with: I'm working many hours, but with SO little forward progress. The work I'm doing right now requires intense identification with each individual character, combined with intense objectivity about each character, which is a tricky balance. It takes a lot of time and energy. The reason I'm doing this is to get a sense of whether each character rings true emotionally. So, I sink myself into each character emotionally to write a line. Then I become the outside objective reader and read the line I just wrote, in the hopes of getting an objective sense of whether it conveys the thing I was feeling while I wrote it. Because it's not enough for a writer to feel something while she writes it. The reader needs to feel it while she reads it, or else effective writing hasn't actually happened. This particular task involves a lot of backtracking, a lot of following one character through the story while ignoring the others, a lot of going back to the beginning. I suppose it's a good sign that this is where I am, because this only tends to happen in the later revisions. I certainly hope this revision will turn out to be one of the later revisions. :o)

I'll ease myself back into blogging today with a reflection on one of last year's New Year's resolutions: I resolved to bake bread once a month. "Bread," in this context, meant something that needed to be kneaded. I mostly baked traditional yeast loaves (buttermilk, potato, rye, etc.) and at one point I baked a soda bread. I baked bread every month – except December! December got away from me. So, on Friday night, I started an extra special bread to make up for my December folly: the better chocolate babka at Smitten Kitchen. Oh my goodness. This was definitely the winner for the year. If you're interested in trying the recipe but you don't have a standing mixer, don't worry, I don't have a standing mixer either and it was just fine (though I strongly recommend using room-temperature butter!). Very gloppy to knead (because of all the butter), but everything came together well. Thank goodness, I got some super-sharp knives for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad ^_^); I wouldn't have wanted to cut through the big tubes of raw dough with dull knives. If you make this bread, definitely follow the advice to stick the dough in the freezer for fifteen minutes before slicing. I left out the cinnamon and the nuts, checked them at 25 minutes and again at 30 minutes; they baked for about 35. Yummy! I suppose I should've taken more pictures in progress, but the ones on the website are lovely (and helpful). Here are the few I did take!

This is the dough's second rise. This bread isn't a big riser, so don't freak out if not a lot seems to be happening!

Out of the oven.

Ready for the feast :o)