Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What else do the simple folk do?

I checked in with Martha Stewart last week. You know, as I was making my rounds of Internet time-wasting. I'm gratified to report that, in addition to her collections of jadeite, stoneware, baskets, faux bois, and disgruntled ex-employees, Martha now is collecting antique horse-drawn carriages.

I'm not kidding, she even blogged about it. Now, some people may think that this kind of materialism and consumption is disproportionate, even obscene, but if we didn't have Martha to do it, out in the open, how would we know that it is done? She's like the Annie Sprinkle of wealth.

Dolly Parton, on the other hand, has this very interesting cooperative program that provides a book a month to every child born in a community until the child reaches 5 years old. Called the Imagination Library, you can scale it to your resources - the community can be as small as a hospital or as large as a state.

And while you're standing around at the reference desk with a minute between customers, FreeRice is a game that tests your vocabulary while providing food aid through the UN World Food Program.

"Excoriate" and "priggish" are two words that I just got, and I'd like to use them in a sentence:
"Is it priggish of me to excoriate Martha Stewart for spending a whole batch of cash on fucking horse-drawn carriages when that money could be spent on AIDS prevention, technology access, green urbanism, education in Africa, education and health, or promoting human rights?"

Monday, October 29, 2007

Frankenstein and the Mummy walk into a bar...

Best Halloween books from Your Beighborhood Librarian (somebody misspelled it that way on a computer at work and I thought, "Finally!"). Just in case you were scratching your head for Halloween inspiration and didn't come up with these, some of which are totally obvious.

Frankenstein makes a sandwich by Adam Rex. Worth wallpapering your playrooom with.

Monster Goose by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Jack E. Davis. Good gross-out rhymes.

Horowitz horror: stories you'll wish you'd never read by Anthony Horowitz. I read adult horror, and I was kind of freaked out by some of these. Great for a classroom read-aloud.

The works of my mother's old friend Mary Downing Hahn.

All Hallows' Eve: 13 stories by Vivian Vande Velde. You can rely on VVV for a good creepy story - this book, up a notch on the scare-o-meter from There's a dead person following my sister around, is a good recommendation for teens.

The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire. Reviewed earlier by me.

The Squampkin Patch by J.T. Petty. MotherReader plugged this and I read it last night. My new favorite gruesome funny book - funnier than Roald Dahl (I said it!), more ruthless than Lemony Snicket.

The perfect pumpkin pie by Denys Cazet. A ghost story with a granny with an attitude.

Z is for Zombie by Merrily Kutner and John Manders. More silly scary rhymes.

The skull alphabet book by Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello. Not so much a read-aloud, this one is fantastic for the art, the information, and the riddles.

Ryan Heshka's ABC Spook Show. Totally cool illustrations.

And if you have a small group of under-8's, try to get your hands on Mommy? by Maurice Sendak. The spinning mummy will have them riveted.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Robert's Snow illustrator profile: Julie Fromme Fortenberry

"First Snow" by Julie Fromme Fortenberry

It is again my privilege to profile one of the generous artists who have donated original works of art to the Robert's Snow online auction benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Julie Fromme Fortenberry claims she has "a weird resume". I smell ya, sis - I guess we all do at this point. And how did we all end up online together? I want to know!

Anyway, I'll give it to her: any career path that includes exhibiting abstract art at the Whitney Museum for American Art and illustrations in Highlights High 5 magazine, well ok, that's a little unusual to say the least.

Her snowflake for Robert's Snow depicts her friendly little dog Lucy out in the snow for the first time. I like this illustration, and all her work, for its real feeling of down-to-earth sweetness. Her point of view is direct and intimate, and her figures are happy and expressive. Plus she uses a lot of fine strong-but-not-overpowering color. The work is endearing but never cutesy.

Julie's illustrations look like watercolor, but she actually creates them on the computer in her bedroom, when she's not distracted by laundry, permission slips, and the whole "big ball of domestic fun." Yep, that sounds a little familiar, too. Her computer is in the bedroom, mine is in the dining room. When I asked her what she'd like to see made out of Lego (I kind of suck at the interviewing part of this process), she answered, "A detached studio/office a few yards from my house, complete with plumbing and heating."

Here you go, Julie - this is what I've had my eye on:

Not Lego, but oh my god. Or this one, by Shigeru Ban. And hey, while I'm speaking of online and random and covetable, I have to plug Julie's blog. She samples illustration, design, kitsch, culture, and whatever strikes her fancy. She has the coolest taste - I find something interesting every time I stop by.

Last but not least, Julie is a New York museum person. I had an inkling when I saw this illustration. It looks one heck of a lot like the display of Pacific Island masks at The Brooklyn Museum, although it could be my old workplace too. On the other hand, Julie's probably spent more time in the hall of African, Asian and Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum - she worked there a while ago, and her husband works there now.

You can see Julie Fromme Fortenberry's work online, and in various Harcourt Education publications, Highlights High 5, and in a forthcoming preschool book yet to be titled. She also did the cover of the Baltimore's Child Parents Pages, a directory of parent and child service providers here in Smalltimore.

Be sure to check back on the Robert's Snow site as the auction date approaches. These marvelous wooden snowflakes are a great opportunity to own original art by published artists. They are sure to be well-priced, just in time for the holidays, and benefit a good cause.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday - Bungal-Ode

Poetry Friday hosted today at Literary Safari.

This extraordinary ditty, transcribed below in its entirety, was sent to my husband by a colleague. Our neighborhood is lousy with what some people call bungalows and other people call four-squares. We live in one, built in 1922 and still going strong. I love our house, but I'm at a loss when faced with this thing:


There's a jingle in the jungle
'Neath the juniper and pine,
They are mangling the tangle
Of the underbrush and vine,
And my blood is all a-tingle
At the sound of blow on blow,
As I count each single shingle
On my bosky bungalow

There's a jingle in the jungle,
I am counting every nail,
And my mind is bungaloaded,
Bungaloping down a trail;
And I dream of every ingle
Where I angle at my ease,
Naught to set my nerves a-jingle
I may bungle all I please.

For I oft get bungalonely
In the mingled human drove,
And I long for bungaloafing
In some bungalotus grove,
In a cooling bung'location
Where no troubling trails intrude,
'Neath some bungalowly rooftree
In east bungalongitude.

Oh, I think with bungaloathing
Of the strangling social swim,
Where they wrangle after bangles
Or for some new-fangled whim;
And I know by bungalogic
That is all my bungalown
That a little bungalotion
Mendeth every mortal moan!

Oh, a man that's bungalonging
For the dingle and the loam
Is a very bungalobster
If he dangles on at home.
Catch the bungalocomotive;
If you cannot face the fee,
Why, a bungaloan'll do it --
You can borrow it from me!

Burges Johnson
Good Housekeeping (February 1909)

Burges Johnson (1877-1963) was an author, humorist and educator. He had poems and stories published in Harper's, TIME, and the Century, among others, and his book Bashful Ballads is available in Google Books - if you just can't get enough of the relentless meter, archaic nouns (dingle!) and grotesque
portmanteau neologisms.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It starts with an earthquake

zinnia degraded

I am not thinking about a science fiction novel.

That is a lie. I am always thinking about a science fiction novel. I just can't write one. I can't write fiction - I can't come up with, oh, characters. Plot. Dialog. Just not my gift.

However. I had a little time the other day, after touring some county library branch and stealing all their display strategies, and before picking up Mr. Four at preschool, and I used that time to buy myself a bowl of pho and read MIT Technology Review, and I motherfucking challenge any person to read MIT Technology Review and not come up with a whole batch of plot elements that would make the next William Gibson novel write itself.

It might help to be eating your soup dosed with unhealthy amounts of sriracha and lime, and to be listening to either Vietnamese rap music or Patti Smith.

But anyway.

Your Gibsonesque sci-fi novel could involve the creation of a digital network in Congo. The villian's thugs could be those horrendous tracksuit motherfuckers in South Kivu - you could disable them with a chemical that causes accelerated muscular degeneration.

Or there could be nanotechnology involved - a new organic polymer that you spritz on any household surface (the wall above the range, say, or the inside of the shower) and which forms a self-healing plastic film that can be peeled away and composted when that surface gets dirty. (The film degrades to water and, I don't know, long-chain acids.) Spritz again, et voilà! Instead of cleaning, it would be like peeling a big sticker, which everybody loves. It would be a race to patent it before the patent laws change.

Your protagonist could hide from the bad guys by judicious use of a cologne that contains a chemical that speaks to the face-recognition area in our brains. Wouldn't work at a distance or in photographs, but you love writing your way around plot obstacles.

and, as seen in the NYT style magazine T, the heroine wears this Skyward poncho. But not just a poncho: it is a shelter, a SHG MIS hub, a display (when needed), superthin ultraflexible body armor developed as a result of nanoscale bone disorder research, and, of course, a sound system. Behold:

and in my novel, the protagonist would at one point drive a shitty little manual-transmission car through deserted tree-lined streets paved with that asphalt with the glass in it.

And she has a robot helper.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins - review

What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Lauren Castillo.

I really like this new picture book. Well, I was hoping I was going to love this new picture book, and I guess I do, but mostly I'm super relieved it didn't turn into a "Difficult Themes" book.

Really, there's so much to love here. The cover shows the happy, hip parents escorting their, hm, 4 year old? daughter through their adorable Brooklyn neighborhood. Carroll Gardens, I'm thinking, or maybe Brooklyn Heights, although liberal arts college graduates like these parents seldom can afford Brooklyn Heights.

The art is personal and detailed, warm, rich, loving and animated, yet amiably scratchy. It feels like the scarves they're all wearing on the cover: colorful, woolly, and obviously hand-knit. I don't think anyone in all the five boroughs buys a scarf anymore, what with all the crafty neo-post-feminist knitting circles and all. You're gonna get one as a birthday present sooner or later.

My my. This review is going nowhere. Kind of like the book, although the book does it with charm. What Happens on Wednesdays is literally the dawn to dusk Wednesday routine of a Cherished Only Child in Brooklyn. There are bagels, there are dogs, there is circle time.

And yet, why, when I was reading this book to Mr. Four, was I so apprehensive? I was genuinely concerned that "what happens on Wednesdays" was going to turn out to be, like, chemotherapy. Or else something creepy and unpleasant involving the storytime lady who comes to aftercare on Wednesdays. (I take that back. Storytime ladies are never EVER perverts. They may have bad breath, or scary hairs on their faces, or a partial that keeps slipping, but evil intentions? never.)

It's not just the ominous title: there's also the kid's repeated declaration, "today is not a kissing day." Why not? What happens on kissing days? Tell me! Oh my god do we need to take you to therapy?

Difficult Themes books always seem to take me by surprise: I Remember Miss Perry started out as a totally sweet picture book about school, and halfway through Miss Perry gets hit by a bus! Aack! I thought Not in Room 204 was about classroom manners until we discovered that little Regina has been receiving nighttime visits from her daddy! Oh, no! And let's not even open The Purple Balloon (unless we absolutely need to). Can we please get a spine label here?

And maybe I am over-tuned to the pervert thing, what with people lifting pictures of kids off of Flickr and posting them on "dating" sites, or because I've been putting together an Internet Safety presentation for tweens, but still, it just hit me weird. I asked Mr. Four if he liked the book, and he shrugged and said, "Mmm, kind of."

Now, because any time I give a less than 100% love letter review I hear from the creator, I want to emphasize that I am apparently the only person who has this problem. All the biggies love this book: School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist. It's gonna go far and I wish much luck to Emily (author of the terrific Daffodil, Crocodile, among others) and Lauren. They and Jonathan Bean should get together and create their own city of vivid art and happy families.

And I am certainly going to recommend this book for rockin' Jack in DUMBO, sweet Clara in Fort Green, sly Sascha in Cobble Hill, and little Felicia up in Inwood.

Their parents, who are hip and happy and mostly not freaks like me, will adore it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mr. Four draws and tells a story

There's Captain America, and a monkey, and they are in the jungle, and that's a tree that fell in the jungle. It's raining, and the rain blocks the sun out and makes it a different color. Here's a lake, and that's the ground, and then ping-pong balls start bouncing all over the place like crazy!

And this down here is a tunnel that a mole made under the earth.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I embroidered this baby blanket for my cousin's forthcoming baby girl last Friday. It was a BIG change from my usual embroidery projects, which have taken anywhere from a week to, let's see, six years (and counting) to complete.

I'm a bit proud of this, I think it came out well. I did the whole thing more or less freehand, plus I tried a new stitch - the bullion knot - and I used almost all my favorite colors. It's the whole reason I do embroidery actually - the floss comes in such amazing colors.

Other accomplishments this weekend:
  • I read To Kill a Mockingbird, almost in time for the Big Read event Sunday night. Oh well, the food was amazing and I sat with great people who had read even less of the book than me and who let me eat their frog legs (I saved the beautiful little bones, they look like tiny Q-tips!).
  • I skipped dinner Saturday night, went from work straight to the neighborhood wine tasting, and ended up in my kitchen making my friends try all the disgusting things in my refrigerator. Hee hee!
  • My fridge is on Fridgewatcher.com.
  • I made the Indians lose with my optimistic thinking.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Poetry Friday - found poem

Poetry Friday is aggregated at Writing and Ruminating this week.

Dear Fellow Namers:

Can you believe 25 years has passed?
Do you remember?
"The Triple Threat"
"Junior Ring Mass"
"Football Parties"
"Mr. Wilks's Brownies"
"Sharing a Locker"
Aren't you curious to see how 25 years "Along the Road"
has treated us all?

Wouldn't you like to reminisce about our "Glory Days,"
rekindle old friendships,
and create new ones?

take the time to fill out the enclosed survey card.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shot right through with a bolt of blue

I seem to have developed a relationship with this year's baseball semifinal. Whatever you call it.

I'm not, as anyone can tell, a sports person. Like a lot of spazzy, myopic kids, my number-one strategy for avoiding ball-coming-at-me situations - which without exception elicit from me flop sweat, prayer, flailing, grimacing, and shame - has been to profess an active disdain for organized physical activity. Hey, I never liked organized religious activity either. Same reactions.

However, as my memories of cringing at home plate feebly waggling a bat at a softball I can barely see fade to dim specters in the dust-moted golden haze of The Land Before 1983, I have less reason to sneer at sports. Now, from time to time, I can enjoy watching professional basketball players actually fly: I can gasp at the artistry of women's soccer players (look at that shit! she kicked the ball around the defender, passing it to herself!). In New York, we even went to baseball games. Those were really fun.

But I'm still not a fan. I still don't know the rules, and I still think football in particular is both bureaucratically boring and viscerally ugly - a rare combination, wouldn't you say? I don't follow a team, or any particular players.

My husband is something of a fan. He knows a staggering amount of information about athletes, up to and including where some of them went to high school. He grew up in Cleveland, which is by god a sports town in a football state. He and his long arms played high school basketball and college rugby. He would watch a couple of games a week if he had the leisure to do it (to his immense credit, he doesn't, so he doesn't).

The fact that Bob grew up in Cleveland is significant. Cleveland teams have brilliant seasons, but do not tend to win championships. Was it a big deal when the Red Sox won the whatever a few years ago? Hah. NO Cleveland team has won ANY championship in ANY sport since some year that my husband and every member of his family would know.

Wait I'll look it up. 1964, the year Bob was born, the Browns won the Superbowl.

[Bob corrects me: the Super Bowl hadn't been invented in 1964. The Browns won the NFL Championship.]

And it's not that Cleveland teams simply suck: this much I know. I went to college out there, and in the '80's in Cleveland, even at the geek school, much of our social life involved getting together to watch the Big Game: playoff series after playoff series - and even a Super Bowl, I think - when through some sudden fluke, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. Last-minute fumbles, insane athletic feats by the other guy, chokeage. Apparently, God Hates Cleveland Sports.

Game 1:
This weekend we were out in the old town for a family wedding. Niece Kate marrying Nice John. (Good luck, you kids!) Game one was the night before the wedding, and we missed it - well, Bob missed it. I didn't know one way or the other. We were attending Cousin Stretch's baptism that evening, and as the priest expelled her demons and incorporated her into the church, everybody but me knew that the Indians were playing the Red Sox. Boston won.

Game 2:
Katie and John, the bride and groom, are, like most Clevelanders, sports fans. Big sports fans. Let's put it this way - when their wedding invitation arrived, and it was cream-colored with a brown border, I didn't think for a minute that the brown was there to signify that it was an autumn wedding. I had my fingers crossed about the bridesmaids - I knew there was an outside chance they'd be wearing orange dresses with numbers on the back.

They weren't, of course - hey come on, I'm teasing... but the wedding party did enter the reception at a run, each wearing a team jersey over their tux or gown. That was pretty cute.

That night, back at the hotel, after our kids fell asleep, a batch of family crept into our hotel room to debrief, drink more, and - you guessed it - watch the game. That game went to 23 innings, tied until the Indians scored an unprecedented 47 runs in the top of the last inning and then retired the Red Sox side. Those numbers may not be exact, I did eventually fall asleep once the Indians were ahead by like 4. Still, pretty compelling, for baseball.

The next evening we found ourselves downtown when dinnertime rolled around. Googling "best sushi Cleveland" and plugging the addresses that came up into Google Maps, we came up with some joint in the Warehouse District. The football game was just over when we parked, and my god. Apparently the Warehouse District in Cleveland is considered a good place to watch the game, get unbelievably wasted, and then stagger around trying to use your cell phone in between little vomiting episodes.

I kept a tight hold on the kids, and we made it to the sushi place without either of them being propositioned or puked on. The sushi place was not what we expected - lots of purple and glass, it looked like a club, kind of. But it was fine, you know, fish is fish. We always end up eating sushi when we travel. At any other restaurant the kid options are as follows:
  1. hotdog
  2. grilled cheese
  3. chicken turds
  4. cheeseburger
  5. maybe spaghetti
... and several days of a diet like that is just ugly. At sushi places they eat edamame and tofu and miso soup and fish.

When I took the kids to the bathroom to wash hands I noticed that the big guy at the table next to us was kind of... paved... in diamonds. Big studs in the ears and two wide bracelets on one arm. "Musician?" I thought to myself. "Gangster? Bet he's a ballplayer." He was a black guy with a shaped short beard and he spoke
staccato Dominican Spanish into a cell phone. He acquired at least three hangers-on while he ate his sushi and watched the irritating Tom Brady get sacked on the overhead TV.

So the next day I looked through the Indians and Red Sox rosters, and found that we were sitting next to David Ortiz, designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox! Big Papi, they call him. Beloved, in Boston anyway.

Game 3:
The next night we were up in Bob's sister T's swanky new apartment facing the lake. Big beautiful views, including the stadiums and the blimp. Of course, we turned the game on, and once again, Cleveland won.

Game 4:
Last night we were back home here. We watched the game. Cleveland won. I am more than mildly not-disappointed. I am, in fact, looking forward to Thursday's game. I am thinking to myself, "Wouldn't that be something, if for the first time in 43 years, Cleveland won a championship? This is kind of exciting. But, uh, HOW many games are we talking about?"

I spent the first seventeen years of my life actively avoiding sports. I spent the next seventeen years peripherally aware of sporting events and teams, and the last five gradually getting used to the fact that athletic prowess can be kind of compelling.

Things have changed since I was the most uncoordinated kid in the Baltimore metropolitan area. For one thing, nobody expects me to do sports now - I have a knowledgeable, physically competent husband to teach my boys how to throw and catch, kick and hit, and to explain to them how the Earned Run Average is calculated.

For another, the Baltimore teams of my youth have undergone a molecular shift. The high-achieving Orioles that everyone used to brag about are treated with contempt even at home, and the Baltimore Colts, well, the Colts live in Indianapolis.

It's kind of a funny thing: my first year in Cleveland was 1984, the year that the Colts ran off in the middle of the night. I had heard something about it, but in Cleveland, my god, it was all anyone wanted to talk about. People teased me about it! I was dumbfounded and amused. I didn't even pretend to understand, but I did kind of enjoy it years later when the Browns quit Cleveland to come be Baltimore Ravens.

"Ravens" is not a bad name for a Baltimore sports team, but I cannot bring myself to like them (I'm not alone, either!). I sort of can't remember why, though. Maybe that's just how it works.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Paige Keiser, illustrator, Robert's Snow participant

There's this lovely fundraiser going on in the world of children's literature. Short version goes like this: illustrator Grace Lin lost her husband to cancer after a tough fight. Before he died, the two of them cooked up a way to raise money for cancer research - based on her book Robert's Snow, they recruited children's book artists to paint wooden snowflakes to be auctioned off.

So far, this project has raised over $200,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This year's auction is underway, and this year, dozens of kidlit bloggers are doing our small part to draw attention to the auction by highlighting some of the contributing artists. Go have a look at these snowflakes, they are inventive, adorable, beautiful, and pretty damn reasonable!

Paige Keiser's is particularly sweet, I think. Paige is the lovely and talented, gracious and hardworking illustrator of Moon Ladder and My Eight Book, although her lively characters and clear colors show up in magazines and in her fine art work as well.

I asked Paige about her history in art, and she told me there was pretty much NO chance she would have become anything else - at seven years old, she knew she wanted to be a Disney animator. Paige took extra art classes throughout grade, middle and high school, winning many school art awards along the way. Her interests moved to fine art and still life painting in college, and after discovering a book about N.C. Wyeth at a book store, fell in love with illustration. "I loved the magical interplay between words and pictures."

After graduating college, Paige sent off samples to children's publishers and some to an agent, Cornell and McCarthy. Along with positive feedback from publishers, she was taken on by Cornell and has been drawing for books, magazines and educational materials ever since.

Bid on Paige Keiser's snowflake here. Bookmark it - the auction starts November 19.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I got the spatula, just do as you're told

I picked all the brown food. heh.

Next week is National School Lunch Week.

No, really. It's apparently not a joke. I remember school lunch - I used to sit on my sandwich because I didn't want to eat it and the teachers would walk around inspecting your lunchbox to make sure that you ate everything. No wonder we're all obese in this country. Hrmph.

So, on their web site you can cast your vote for which mascot you think would best represent National School Lunch Week. Take a look. Really. They're all terrible - ugly, badly-drawn, and actually gross - but it's Yumi Rice Bowl that's gonna be chasing me down the halls of my junior high in my nightmares tonight. They put sticks in her brain! AAAaaghhh!!

A far better mascot for National School Lunch Week (I mean come on! who comes up with this crap?!) would be Cathy (above), the virtual lunch lady in the Virtual Cafeteria. You really have to try this one out - you can choose what you want for lunch (actual school lunch menus are used) and see how nutritious each item is. The Virtual Cafeteria tots up your total calories, protein, etc. - oh, and also how much you've spent - and Cathy gives you praise for picking the healthy stuff.

My favorite part? The Condiments tab in the lower right-hand corner. That's got to be the cutest illustration of a mayonnaise packet I've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer

Ok I took the plunge and entered Second Life.


Well now, obviously that's not fair. I only spent 40 minutes or so bumping into walls and trying to master the vertiginous view settings, plus about 30 minutes making my avatar look less like an anime prostitute and slightly more like, ahem, myself. Admittedly, a version of myself 20 years ago and with better skin and bone structure and more volume in my hair but hey! in Second Life you can be hideous, you can be weird-looking, or you can be about seven hundred thousand different varieties of gorgeous. Ordinary is not an option.

The first thing I did in Second Life was to find "the crappy town where Wash is a hero." Big Firefly fan. I got inside Serenity, then found I was too tall to fit through the doors. Shortened myself (I guess ducking is a skill to be mastered later), went in. Looked around. Took a picture. Left.

As for what I was there to find out: yes. There is sex in Second Life. Also dancing. Neither seem wise.

God knows I do!

Go to Threadless, vote on my friend Sean's maze T-shirt. Do it now, do it often.

Everybody loves a maze - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Monday, October 08, 2007

Watch out for that 100% oxygen environment

A few weeks ago, annoyed by International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I proposed Interplanetary Talk Like an Astronaut Day in a comment on ACW's blog.

If you're too lazy to click the link and scroll, my proposal is this: all day, whenever you have something to say, you have to cup your hand over your mouth and make static sounds. You have to call everyone by his or her field sign: Eagle, Houston, Columbia, Mercury 1, Seven of Nine, etc. Extra credit for acronyms and for achieving the right flatness of tone, especially in the face of terrifying fuckupery (or just household irritants).
"Shhhk, uh, Capcom, this is Tranquility Base."
"Shhk, go ahead Tranquility."
"Shhhk, yeah uh, Capcom, we're picking up some vibration from the, uh, washing machine down there."
"Shhk, go ahead Tranquility."
"Shhhk, Capcom we're wondering how, uh, you're going to go ahead with this?"
"Shhk, go ahead, Tranquility."
"Shhk, yeah, Capcom, we kind of have our hands full up here, with this, uh, homework situation in the dining room and, uh, we'd really like this to be your ball."
"Shhhk, go ah-"
*Sudden rain of meteorites bombards Houston*
"Shhk, Roger that, Tranquility. We'll look into on our end, over."
Whole new galaxies of passive aggression, if that's your bag, plus you get to move in slow motion if you want.

If you need help getting the tone and lingo down, may I suggest you hie your buttocks to a movie theater and watch In the Shadow of the Moon? We did, and I've been "roger" -ing everyone ever since. Heh.

Really, seriously, this was an amazing movie. Constructed entirely of archival footage and the recollections and insights of the men who went to the moon, there's nothing much between you and that little gray rock up there.

There's something about it that hits me right *here*. I was 3 in July 1969, and I remember watching the moon landing on our little TV, making it one of my first memories. Dad made a paper model of the lunar lander and it sat on the shelf in my parents' room for decades.

So, I've known these images my entire life - remember when MTV's station ID was footage of the second stage tumbling away from the Saturn V rocket? "DAMP! Da-namp, da-namp, da nah-nah-nah-nah... hi, I'm Martha Quinn and this hour we'll have videos from Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Doors, Pat Benatar, and The Buggles!"

But I sat there in the theater listening to the astronauts talk about what it was like, watching the first images of the Earth ever taken from space, and tears streamed down my face. These old men are the only ones who can tell us about it, they have had 40 years to think about it, and they take this responsibility very seriously. They're all military men - a couple of them retired as Brigadier Generals - but the way they talk about the experience of going into space is sensitive, eloquent, and frequently funny. Mike Collins is brilliant - like the jangly acoustic guitar on In Between Days, he keeps the thing grounded and friendly. He's a funny, down-to-earth guy, though his choice of words and his occasional insights betray him as a very very smart man.

At the end, one of these hard-bitten old white military men, I forget which one, says something very straightforward, like, "The Earth is our home. We don't take very good care of it." and, ok, this is not something you have to work hard to convince me of, but coming from this guy, there was a certain extra weight behind it.
"Shhk, Capcom, this is Tranquility."
"Shhhk, go ahead Tranquility."
"Shhk, Capcom, we're out."

Thoughts on hearing "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" on the radio and not recognizing it

Nice guitar.

Sexy guitar. When's the last time I heard sexy rock 'n' roll? Gimme Shelter? Huh. After R.E.M., I think rock 'n' roll was forbidden to be sexy.

Sounds like Robert Plant. Must be White Stripes.

Those two really do a lot with guitar and drums. Not even much drums. Handclaps.

Jack White has about as much appeal as Jack Black (heh), but he sure sings like a rockstar.

Oh. It is Zeppelin. Great.

What kind of old does that make me?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Men who torture, murder and rob

BIG spider, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Nobody knows what this giant spider is. I've had it posted on the "ID, Please" group on Flickr for a week. Almost 2 inches toe to toe, found on Mr. Four's Dora the Explorer lawn chair.

Also, I've decided that whenever somebody asks how I know something, I'm going to answer, "Prison."

"Where'd you learn to cook?"

"Why do you know so much about the publishing industry?"
"I was in prison."

"How come you know all about plate tectonics?"

Try it yourself!

Jeane Kirkpatrick obviously learned everything she knew in prison. When I am sixty, I want to have that face. And that suit.

Friday, October 05, 2007

But I tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man

Alan Rickman, Richard Thompson. They are the same man.

"Vincent Black Lightning 1952" just played on the radio and I swear if Alan Rickman could sing he would sing like Richard Thompson. Plus if they were the same guy we'd've been spared some of the goofier Fairport Convention moments. And in Truly Madly Deeply when Alan Rickman sings with Juliet Stevenson... well actually now that I've listened to it, he really has a nice singing voice, and Juliet Stevenson? Is Carole King!

I'm just another Western guy with desires he can't satisfy


God, what a week it's been.

Our Google calendar looks like the computer screen at the end of War Games, when all the nukular splosions bloom up and overlap and do it over and over again faster and faster.

Bob's like Mr Community Man at this point, he's got all kinds of meetings in the evenings. I don't so much - that crippling meeting allergy of mine has tragically limited my participation in committees and boards - but I've picked up a couple extra shifts at work and I have a couple of projects going, and, together with two evenings of soccer practice a week, that's really enough to shove us over the edge. I find myself being that pack-horse woman who drags around a 30-pound tote bag full of books and periodicals and computers just on the off chance I find myself with ten minutes and free wi-fi.

I was up for another part-time job, which I was hoping to get for a variety of noble and symmetrical reasons, but in the back of my mind it had definitely occurred to me that that job would have given me a good, defensible reason to jettison some of the smaller projects that have attached themselves to my hull. Hm. Did I just mix that metaphor? I guess you'd cast off things attached to your hull, and you'd jettison things that were actually on the vessel. Well what the fuck, I like the word "jettison". Also "defensible".

You know another good word? predictive.


Our neighbor, a retired math teacher, passed along to us this beautiful Cuisenaire Home Mathematics Kit. Copyright 1971 by Learning Games, Inc. in White Plains, the kit includes 155 Cuisenaire Rods, activity cards, a guidebook and glossary, and a flexi phonograph record "for preschoolers". Wow!

This kit is designed to make "MODERN MATH fun for child and parent," and you know? it just could work. The Cuisenaire rods are precisely machined, vibrantly stained wooden blocks that sort of ring when they clink against each other. The smallest is a 1x1x1 cm cube, the next is a 1x1x2 cm crimson red rod, the next longest is 1x1x3 cm and lizard green, and so forth, through 1x1x10 cm, which is orange like a navel orange.

The activity cards teach concepts ranging from greater than / less than to like, functions and Cartesian products. Big Man and I sat down with them last week and did some of the activities, making trains of equal length from different colored blocks and stuff, and it was very subtle - he was learning about common denominators in this very concrete way. I had to back off a bit actually, I was dizzy from all the learning!


So apparently the Europeans, you know them, they're all up in the Cuisenaire stuff. Apparently you can learn almost anything, including Chinese, using these rods. I read the description and I absolutely couldn't get my head around it.

And the gorgeous colors of the Cuisenaire rods put me in mind of the L
üscher Color Test, also developed by some midcentury Euro maverick social scientist (I see these guys in like Martin Landau jumpsuits in perfectly white lab environments: "we have discovered how the mind works and we can fix it through the use of pure hues and precise geometry.").

The color test involves arranging a set of ten densely-printed color cards in order by "what color makes you feel the best". You do it twice. There are like 5015 possible combinations. It works just exactly like Internet quizzes do today, which is why you can find it online.

We had it at home. It was the closest my parents came to Tarot, or psychiatry. I took it the other day.
Your Existing Situation
Acts calmly, with the minimum of upset, in order to handle existing relationships. Likes to feel relaxed and at ease with her associates and those close to him.

Your Stress Sources
Wishes to be independent, unhampered, and free from any limitation or restriction, other than those which she imposes of herself or by her own choice and decision.

Your Restrained Characteristics
Willing to participate and to allow herself to become involved, but tries to fend off conflict and disturbance in order to reduce tension. The situation is preventing her from establishing herself, but she feels she must make the best of things as they are. Feels trapped in a distressing or uncomfortable situation and seeking some way of gaining relief.

Your Desired Objective
Wants interesting and exciting things to happen. Able to make herself well-liked by her obvious interest and by the very openness of her charm. Over-imaginative and given to fantasy or day-dreaming.

Your Actual Problem
Seeks to avoid criticism and to prevent restriction of her freedom to act, and to decide for herself by the exercise of great personal charm in her dealings with others.

Sort of standard horoscope BS but I remember being just fascinated when I was a kid. So here's to these guys, a sort of mini-Bauhaus of the mind:
Georges Cuisenaire: Belgian, introduced the rods in 1952
Max L
üscher: Swiss, started using his color test in 1947
And to quote the adorable pop culture librarian:
I'm out.

Poetry Friday - Haiku for my family edition

hosted this week by whimsy

Watching my little boy eat crackers at Red Canoe
How finely he is
put together; tiny bones
surmounted by skin.

On my husband's birthday (a collaborative work)
Give him what he wants:
a six-pack and Matt Damon
movies (you pervert).

After school, after after-care, after playing, after more playing - a six year old's evening
Sweaty and wild-eyed,
you are so ready for bed.
Fumes rise off your head.

Monday, October 01, 2007

More candy for me!

Halloween is the best. Best holiday. Best color scheme, best iconography, best outfits, and best shopping - with candy, one size fits all!

I just lifted a new paperback off the shelf written by a guy who REALLY gets it. Titled Extreme Pumpkins, it's all about the best ways to gut a pumpkin, how to get 3-foot flames to spurt out the top of a pumpkin, and how to make a bathtub full of blood.

But I wouldn't have blogged about it if it hadn't made me laugh out loud three times. Three times. That's my threshold. If you're once, twice, three times funny, you're gonna get blogged.

1. Cannibal pumpkin. A big jack o'lantern with a teeny screaming jack o'lantern wedged in its mouth. Yeah man.

2. Puking pumpkin. An ill-looking jack o'lantern with pumpkin guts welling up and out of its mouth (and nostril, nice touch!).

3. Punk rock pumpkin. Painted flat black and then carved, this jack o'lantern gets staples for eyebrow rings and a piece of hose clamp for a lip ring.

Additional over-the-top Halloween projects are documented in full on the man's website. Go forth. Scare the neighbors.