Monday, July 28, 2014

Misdemeanors With Doughnuts: I KNOW There's A Book Plot In This Tale Somewhere.

From Yahoo! News:

Donut capers stymie police in Oregon

By Courtney Sherwood
PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Police in a Portland suburb have a sticky situation on their hands: for more than a month, mysterious vandals have been smearing pastries on cars, depositing donuts in lawns and leaving cakes strewn about the streets.
According to Hillsboro police, the baked-goods bandits first struck on June 1, smearing a maple bar across a car windshield.
In the weeks since, the pastry perpetrators have occasionally turned to healthier fare, leaving yogurt, bread and potato salad on vehicles and in driveways, although most of the incidents have involved sweets, said police spokesman Lieutenant Mike Rouches.
Amateur sleuths within the neighborhood collected frosting and sprinkles, and traced pastries back to at least two supermarkets in the area.
“We think the suspects probably went to a Dumpster where a grocery store had thrown out day-old pastries,” Rouches said.
Although only two residents of the suburban northeast Hillsboro neighborhood have complained to police, baked goods seem to have been scattered across multiple vehicles and yards. No permanent damage has been caused, and no individual seems to have been specifically targeted, Rouches said.
Police see the maple bars and chocolate donuts as an inconvenience, rather than a threat, but Rouches said that a crime has occurred – criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. Patrol cars are making more visits to the neighborhood, especially at night, although so far police have opted not to request surveillance video from local supermarkets.
“We believe the suspects are kids in the neighborhood,” Rouches said, adding that police don’t necessarily need to arrest the perpetrators and could settle for an apology, but would like the late-night capers to stop.
(Reporting by Courtney Sherwood; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tinting, Decorating, And Upcycling Jars And Bottles

It's been a fad for months now on Pinterest, tinting Mason jars.  Naturally, I had to try it.  There was just something so compelling about the beautiful colors achieved with Mod Podge and food coloring.

First, let me remind you -- should you wish to try this at home -- that Mod Podge reeks.  It is useful but nasty stuff.  Do this only when you can open windows and use a fan; otherwise, your house will smell awful for hours -- maybe days.  Ick.

First, clean the jars or bottles completely, remove all labels (rubbing alcohol or googone), and dry thoroughly.  Then cover your workspace very well; this is a messy craft, and it stains.  Wear an apron or old clothes.
In a paper cup or clean, recycled container, mix Mod Podge with a little water and the food coloring of your choice.  Pour into the chosen jar/bottle, and rotate the jar/bottle to cover the inside completely.
Tip the jar/bottle upside down to drain (and drain and drain and drain) on wax paper or into a throw-away container of some sort, such as a cleaned cottage cheese container.
This will take at least an hour, probably more like two hours.
(Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Next, put the upright, drained jars/bottles on an old cookie sheet and place in an oven at 200 F. for 20-30 minutes, until the class is transparent instead of opaque.

(Yes, I know; this is a different set of glass than in the first photo.  I'm using pics from three different times I tried this project.)

Take them out of the oven and let them cool.  Then put them someplace to dry completely for at least a week before you put any caps or lids on them.

(I love that peach color on the jar in the left corner!)

When the glass is completely dry, you can decorate at will.  Just remember that these containers are not food safe, nor can they hold liquid without the Mod Podge turning back into goo.  So, wrapped candy, yes.  Cake mix, no.  Dried flowers, yes.  Goldfish, no.

Now, after three separate times of this fun-but-gross-smelling craft, I ended up with about 2 dozen beautifully colored upcycled jars and bottles -- and absolutely no freakin' clue what I was going to do with all of them.
Thus, I started tinkering about with altering the bottles.
So far, I've turned two Stewart's drink bottles into steampunk affairs.  (Note: the brown bottle was already brown, as it had originally held rootbeer, but the green bottle is one I colored.)

The labels are free ones from a craft site.  I used stamp ink to "age" the labels.  The bottle necks are wrapped with ribbon and twine.  Both bottles have "caps" made of vintage buttons, and the green bottle has a vintage button attached to the neck and two more dangling down the side.  (Yeah, my family saves EVERYTHING.  These particular vintage buttons date from the late 1940s.)  The little keys on both bottles came from Michael's craft shop, as did the metal tag on the brown bottle.  I had purchased some tiny bottles with corks on Amazon; I filled one with green glitter (purchased at Michael's).  All the trinkets on both bottles are strung with metallic silver embroidery floss, left over in ample quantities decades ago from some embroidery order at my dad's business (a silk-screen printing company), but I have seen it still available in craft shops today.

This bottle turned out a lovely shade of blue. :)

Now, I didn't set out to make it a Frozen (Disney) bottle, but it sort of ended up that way.  (*shrugs*)
The inside has taped-on strips of blue and silver metallic grass/confetti left over from the prize bag I won from Kate Jarvik Birch at her Perfected reading and sequins in three shades of blue, left over from a snowflake craft project purchased years ago from Oriental Trading Company.  The translucent ribbon was left over from a gift, the "let it snow" ribbon came from JoAnn's Fabrics about 2 years ago, and the blue fake gem is a stick-on earring from Oriental Trading Company (years ago).  All of the outer decorations are attached with glue dots (purchased from JoAnn's).  I find the result very pretty.

I hope this may inspire a few crafters or upcyclers.  I do feel good about keeping glass out of the landfill, but I still have no clue yet what to do with all my other colored jars and bottles.  However, if any of them turn out well, I promise to post photos!

(Note: no items were purchased from misogynist or anti public education companies for this craft project.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

English Teacher Humor: Summing Up Literary Theory

For any of you who've ever suffered through a course on literary theory,  Kate Hattemer's description thereof from The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy:

(found on page 139)

".... [L]iterary theory is akin to the square root of negative one: we're just pretending it exists."

As someone who once pulled an A in a theory class by writing a 4700-word paper applying Judith Butler's take on the Hegelian dialectic tradition she claimed was in Sophocles' Antigone to the Fundamentalist LDS polygamous clans in Utah, I can assure you that Hattemer is spot-on in her description.
(PS If you are a normal person who has never attempted literary theory, don't even try to piece out my last sentence.  Just don't.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wet Feathers

July is usually very hot in Utah.  This makes it an excellent time to wash and dry all the bedding: blankets, featherbeds, comforters, pillows.
However, even in the dry heat of the desert, it takes days for feather-filled things to dry, so, naturally, they cannot all be washed at the same time, due to lack of drying space.  I have had, therefore, large, wet things drying in the basement for weeks now.
I am really, really tired of the smell of wet feathers.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: Dr. Mütter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

The Goodreads summary:

A mesmerizing biography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator who revolutionized American surgery and founded the country’s most famous museum of medical oddities
Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—or even wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Thomas Dent Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeon in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century.
Although he died at just forty-eight, Mütter was an audacious medical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools, and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time.
Brilliant, outspoken, and brazenly handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suits to perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection of medical oddities that would later form the basis of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

My Review:

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

This is very good narrative non-fiction.
Before my copy arrived, I read a couple of the negative reviews posted on Goodreads, and I was concerned.  However, now that I have read Aptowicz's book, I find I disagree with most of what these negative reviews say.

I really enjoy narrative non-fiction done right.  But that is what this is: narrative.  If you want only historical facts presented textbook-style (which I also enjoy, by the way), then you might not like this book.  But if you enjoyed books such as Larson's The Devil In The White City or Johnson's The Ghost Map, then Dr. Mutter's Marvels is probably a good choice.
This book tells the story of a remarkable genius who is not well known outside of Philadelphia and/or the medical community.  Thomas Dent Mütter was fabulous, flamboyant, controversial, and way ahead of his time in the field of plastic surgery -- and also in progressive ideas such as cleanliness, treating patients with respect, and using ether to make surgeries easier for both patients and doctors.
I was pleased with the amount of notes available for me to check the research, as I am always suspicious of authors' claims when notes and references are not included.  Those who wish to check facts or read more will find that Aptowicz has included plentiful resources.  As I had an ARC, the fact that the index was not yet in the book disappointed me, but I'm quite sure that the "real" book will not have that problem.
So why did I give this four stars instead of five?  Well, the author does jump around quite a bit, taking several sections of this chronological narrative out of order in a way that can be rather confusing.  She's also a bit inconsistent with her treatment of other doctors/medical researchers at the time.  Some of them get plenty of coverage, but others are not even named when she discusses the effects of their discoveries on Mütter and his work.  She also praises the medical community in Paris at the time but ignores the tremendous influence of the medical world in Edinburgh -- including the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, which had been in existence for over 100 years before Mütter got his "original" idea of creating a similar museum.  I have a hard time believing that Mütter would have heard NOTHING of the medical advancements in Scotland when he was supposedly so very influenced by Europeans and the community in Paris.  Surely the Europeans would have been discussing the hot topics of the day from the medical communities in other large cities!  But this is ignored in the book, except for one brief mention of Edinburgh.  Thus, I wonder about the thoroughness of some parts of the research, however much I enjoyed -- and I DID enjoy -- the research which is included.
But on the whole, I found this to be a very good and fascinating read.  I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in American history, medical history, women's history (there is must on women's health here), or general gruesomeness (surgery required a very strong stomach).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: The Vigilante Poets Of Selywn Academy By Kate Hattemer

I stayed up way too late reading this book. :)

The goodreads plot summary:

Witty, sarcastic Ethan and his three friends decide to take down the reality TV show, For Art's Sake, that is being filmed at their high school, the esteemed Selwyn Arts Academy, where each student is more talented than the next. While studying Ezra Pound in English class, the friends are inspired to write a vigilante long poem and distribute it to the student body, detailing the evils of For Art's Sake. But then Luke—the creative force behind the poem and leader of the anti-show movement—becomes a contestant on the nefarious show. It's up to Ethan, his two remaining best friends, and a heroic gerbil named Baconnaise to save their school. Along the way, they'll discover a web of secrets and corruption involving the principal, vice principal, and even their favorite teacher.

My review:

Finally! A YA Book That's NOT About Romance!

More and more often lately, YA books are being written for adults who want sexy, romantic teen characters -- and very recently, the trend has been that one of these characters must have a terminal disease.
Vigilante Poets is a tremendously refreshing change.
My favorite thing about this book is how very realistic the main characters are. The male narrator, Ethan, is not sexy, suave, or sophisticated; he's idealistic, clueless about girls, and loyal. He's also hilarious.
Yes, the book is a bit heavy on Ezra Pound's poetry for most teenage readers, but it is not necessary to "get" Pound in order to understand the book. (Rhetorical question: Does anyone actually "get" Ezra Pound anyway? That question has been debated for decades.)
Thus, if you want steamy teen romance, this is not your book. If you are an adult who has gotten used to reading YA wherein the "kids" act like adults, this is not your book. But if you want to read a funny, realistic book about hilarious and idealistic teenagers who see themselves as fighting injustice, this is your book. And, if you want a book wherein ...


no one has cancer except the gerbil, then this is your book!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Literature In The Public Education System. Part I

I am weary of the constant maligning of public education which goes on in the media and social media every day.
One of the repeated-ad-nauseum items one finds on book blogs and tweeted out by writers of all types is the lie that kids never have read anything in public schools.  While it is very true that plenty of kids will put far more effort into NOT reading something than they ever would if they actually read their assigned texts, in general, it is a lie to say that teachers are to blame for kids' coming out of school not having read even a book.
Let me give you an example: me.
I am a product of the public education system.  Only one of my school days ever was spent in a private school (on an exchange day), charter schools didn't exist at the time, and parents did not homeschool kids unless the children had some medical condition.  (One of my classmates in 1st grade had mono for almost the whole year, for example.)  Thus, public school it was for me, schools which had very mixed socio-economic levels among the students.  (Our school boundaries at the time encompassed some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest areas of the city.  I knew kids who lived in mini-mansions and kids who were refugees and owned only a couple of changes of clothing.  It was pretty diverse.)
Now, granted, I was and am a good reader.  I found reading to be the easiest of all my assigned tasks in every single grade, but, naturally, I did not love -- or even like -- everything I read.  Also, because I was a good reader, I was in honors classes, and this may have made a difference in what I was assigned to read.
However, I have kept a list (Note: I kept extensive journals throughout my secondary school years.  This info was easy to find.) of my assigned reading and some of what I read for fun as well.

7th Grade:
In the Junior Great Books Program, we read the following:
"Harrison Bergeron" by Vonegut (I recall being very disturbed by this initially.)
"The Stone Boy" by Berricult
"The Gun Without A Bang" by Scheckley
"The Overcoat" by Gogol (This was the story that made me understand metaphor and allegory. I recall very well my ah ha! moment when the teacher explained that it was not really about an overcoat at all.)
"Gaston" by Soroyan
"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane
"The Evildoer" by Chekov
"Rufus" by Agee
"The Rocking Horse Winner" by Lawrence  (This one disturbed me.)
"The Zodiacs" by Neugeboren
"The Companion" by Yevfushenko (poem)
"Univac to Univac" by Salomon (poem)
A condensed version of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (I liked this.)
We also read the John Christopher series The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire, which I loved and re-read so often that my paperbacks nearly fell apart.

8th Grade:
In the Junior Great Books Program, we read the following:
"The Ledge" by Hall
"The Way We Went" by Knight
Antigone by Sophocles  (Yup.  You read that right.)
"Sucker" by McCullers
"Two Lovely Beasts" by O'Flaherty
Apology by Plato
Crito by Plato  (Yes.  Plato in 8th grade.)
"Mateo Falcone" by Merimee
"The Griffin and the Minor Cannon" by Stockton
"Master and Man" by Tolstoy
"The Children" by Stembridge (poem)
"Seeing Eye To Eye Is Believing" by Nash (poem)
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Stevenson.
We also read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, one book per term.  I loved that part the best, although I know I liked Jekyll and Hyde as well.

Unfortunately, I don't have as complete a record of what I read for fun in junior high.  I know that our library was not a very welcoming place at the time, that I felt too old for our local bookmobile, and that there was really no such thing as young adult literature back in the day; everything was either for children or for adults.  I'm pretty sure I re-read many of my gradeschool favorites, such as the Louisa May Alcott books or the Frances Hodgson Burnett books many times.  I also loved Freaky Friday by Mary Rogers.

High School:
Freshman year:
Antigone by Sophocles (yet again)
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Great Expectations by Dickens (twice. Once as one of our options, and then the whole class was assigned to read it.  I remember complaining about it, as I had not liked the book either time.)
Silas Marner by Eliot (I thought it was boring.)
A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Wuthering Heights by Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Austen
Rebecca by DuMarier
The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger (I thought it was stupid and boring.)
The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne
Brave New World by Huxley
The Three Musketeers by Dumas
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
All Creatures Great and Small by Herriot
And every short story and poem in the old Outlooks Through Literature book, including some by O. Henry, Poe, Conan Doyle, and the one that stuck with me so very well, "By The Waters Of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benet.

On my own:
1984 by Orwell
The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
All Things Bright and Beautiful by Herriot
All Things Wise and Wonderful by Herriot
The Good Lord Made Them All by Herriot
Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury (I didn't really understand this one at the time.)
And, no doubt, lots of others I didn't bother to record at the time.

Sophomore year:
Huckleberry Finn by Twain (again)
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare (didn't like this one much)
Leaves of Grass by Whitman
Our Town by Wilder
The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck (hated it)
lots and lots of Greek and Roman mythology, which I didn't like much
poetry by Frost, Dickensen, and Poe

And that's about it.  I believe I re-read many of the books from the freshman year for fun.  But my sophomore English teacher was just average, rather than really good.  We just weren't assigned that much reading.

Junior Year:
MacBeth by Shakespeare (loved it!)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
and I think I recall re-reading Austen and Bronte for this year.  This teacher was excellent, but we spent much of the year learning research paper skills, and we therefore did less literature.  However, I am not sorry, for the thoroughness of her teaching left me prepared for college writing and research.  One of our papers had to be an open court case, and we had to research off court records at the courthouse and microfilm at the library (in those pre-google days of yore).

Senior Year:
lots and lots of philosophy, from the Mortimer J. Adler series
Cancer Ward by Solzhenitsyn (over Christmas break, no less!!! I HATED this book!)
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other stories by Hemingway
The Prophet by Gibran
Siddhartha by Hesse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Hardy
Ghosts by Ibsen
An Enemy of the Public (or People, in other translations) by Ibsen
Cyrano D'Bergerac by Rostand
The Screwtape Letters by Lewis
The Spoon River Anthology by Masters
Dubliners by Joyce
Winesburg, Ohio by Anderson
Intruder in the Dust by Faulkner (hated it)

To my great dismay, we did not "have time" for Hamlet.  I never forgave that teacher, although he was fabulous in many other ways.
We also read many, many poems: Millay, Plath, lots of Shakespeare's sonnets, Donne, Frost, etc.

On my own:
Beneath the Wheel by Hesse
Return of the Native by Hardy
Jude the Obscure by Hardy
Far From The Madding Crowd by Hardy

And this, folks, was from a public education.
This is one of the many reasons why I have so very little tolerance for those who claim a kid can't get a good education in the public system.
We read.  We read almost entirely works of classic literature, and we wrote about them.  We did research papers and pastiches (in order to imitate the best that we might learn from their styles).
And for those of you who are going to argue that no one teaches this way anymore, I will soon finish up a blog post about how English is taught in the school where I teach now.  (Stay tuned.)  :)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch

So, last week Kate Jarvik Birch was speaking at The King's English bookstore.  Quite frankly, I'd never heard of her before, but, as she is a local author, I determined to buy the book, show up at the reading, and give her some support.
Kate was very pleasant and a good speaker.  This was so different from the last time I went to see Jodi Ashton, Brodi Meadows, and Cynthia Hand -- and all they did was talk and giggle about their little secret jokes from touring together.  Kate was completely focused on drawing her audience into her book, which was exactly the right thing to do.
She also had a giveaway, which didn't hurt either.  :)
I won a bag of butterscotch candies, rather like those mentioned in Perfected.  (Note: I bought the book, though.)

By the next day, I'd finished the book.
It's quite a decent little YA romance, and there are only a few editing and copy-editing issues (incorrect usage of objective case pronouns in non-dialogue settings, one instance of using the singular "woman" when the plural "women" was needed, and the horribly cringeworthy use of past tense instead of past participle on page 277, along with a few weaknesses in motivation and background in the first chapter or two), but the characterization is pretty decent and the pacing is good, although the plot is standard and predictable.
What made it worthwhile is Birch's idea of genetically modified humans being raised as pets and what that would mean.  Now, that is truly an interesting idea!  I ended up pondering Birch's world a good deal.

So, , in the Perfected sequel(s), will there be any BOY pets? Do they exist in that world? (They should.) :)

They should! I didn't include boy pets because it made me angrier to think that they only bred girls.

  1. Well, I could see certain kennels specializing in one or the other. But certainly boy pets would sell!
  2. Maybe you'll have to write some companion novellas at some point and put in some boy pet. :)
  3. Consider it my thanks in return for the butterscotch candy (which I'm eating right this second!) .

So, if Kate ever writes a book/novella featuring BOY pets, you'll know it was all my idea. ;)