Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stormy Weather

I've never seen as bad a storm as we had last night. The wind and rain looked like video footage from a hurricane, and we had near-constant lightning. Usually, I find storms enjoyable (or sleep right through them) but this time I was eager for the shelter of our basement.

It was pretty spooky downstairs because water was spraying from cracks in the walls. The wind was pushing the rain (and branches/debris) up against our house, and the gutters were overflowing. All of that water went straight down the foundation walls.

The men of my road gathered this morning to clear trees for safe passage.
But not before the kiddos had some fun.
When I finally left our neighborhood around 1:30 this afternoon, clean-up was still underway. Forts and trampolines were overturned, fences have been ripped apart, roofs sport tarp patches, and corn is laying flat in the fields. Trees and power lines are down all over the place (even more than from the awful ice storm over the winter).

What's crazy is that these 80 MPH winds were focused on a very small area. Three miles away, people don't even realize that any severe weather occurred.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Mini Skirt Bag

I picked up a few more mini skirts today. They're quick to convert, and they have a nice structure for a simple, lightweight bag.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Finicky (book) Appetite

After starting and abandoning several over the past week, I finally found a book I could stick with: Somebody Else's Daughter, by Elizabeth Brundage.

Brundage's myriad characters are so utterly flawed, so charged with secrets and regrets, yet so aware of their shortcomings that I care for and forgive (most of) them.

The plot of Somebody Else's Daughter may not be clear as you read, but at its conclusion you'll see that the story could not have happened any other way. At chapter 54, I thought the plot had run off the rails, but after consideration of the denoument, it makes perfect sense for all of the characters involved and was an essential culmination.

The large and fleshed-out cast of interwoven humanity this book offers, complete with unabashed wickedness, remorse, and self-destructive impulses, brings to mind East of Eden, by the incomparable John Steinbeck.

This novel is not for the faint of heart, nor those with persistently sunny-side-up personalities. It offers off-putting grit and remarkable poignancy, often in the same paragraph. Brundage's writing consumes me, leaves me brooding. And instead of mercy, I beg for more.

*Look here and scroll down for my review of this author's first book.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hobbies Galore

Like 90% of the population, photography has always interested me. This summer, I'm actually trying to learn more about it.

The class I'm taking is offered through a community center. Meetings are once a week, for a little over two hours. The first hour is lecture-based, along with some Q & A. So far, we've covered composition, f-stops/aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and common mistakes. The second hour of each session is reserved for critiques, which is the most interesting, enjoyable part.

Each week our homework is to read our manual, practice with camera settings, and take 30-50 pictures minimum. We each save our best four pictures to a flash drive and she critiques them. To demonstrate what can be done after the photo has been shot, she puts some students' photos into PhotoShop and crops, flips, and straightens them. Of course, this makes us all want to sign up for her PhotoShop, night photography, and intermediate classes. I've already signed up for the intermediate course.

At this point, I'm determined to purchase a better quality camera by fall. I can see improvement in my architectural, portrait, and landscape photos. I'm still struggling with product shots, though.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Renew, Reuse, and Repurpose

In crafting circles, the term upcycling is used to describe items that have been renewed and repurposed.

A thrift-shopping expedition in the hot weather led me straight to the skirt rack. Certain fabrics, sizes, and pocket configurations caught my eye and I realized that cast-off mini skirts could be transformed into fun-to-carry bags.

This was a knee length Ann Taylor skirt. To create the strap, I cut off the bottom, then pressed it in much the same way as I would to make binding.
My mini-skirt bags are unlined, with a serged seam along the bottom. I expect them to sell well at a fall craft festival where I intend to set up my wares.

I can hardly wait to go shopping for more second-hand miniskirts and will look for little girl's sizes next time too!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

People Are People is not a new site, but I love to watch it, and to show it to students. We discuss what it means to "be yourself" and how appealing viewers find it when Matt does his jig. It inevitably comes up that those who are comfortable being themselves and doing their own thing invite joiners, mimics, and jeers for various reasons.

See for yourself. Try not to tear up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting Testy

I've been craving another degree. My 1990's choice to become an English teacher won out over park ranger and librarian because those programs were only offered 100 or more miles away from my mortgage and job. There were some other factors, of course, like my passion for reading, love for writing, and fascination with the adolescent mind.

Then came parenting, and an all-consuming work load every fall. My enthusiasm for pursuing more credits wanes and flares with the calendar pages. Maybe I won't even like it once I can afford to enroll in classes again.

In the interim, I signed up to take the Praxis exam for certification as a school Library and Media Specialist. I registered and paid months ago, but didn't attempt to study until yesterday (Wednesday). Big mistake, I'm sure. The test is Saturday. I hope I haven't wasted a big chunk of money on this gamble.
In case any of you are planning to take the Praxis 0310, I'm linking to the PDF of a cheat sheet I made. I combed through forums and blogs and collected all of the questions people offered a heads up about, then researched them. There are some items that I don't have access to because they're in textbooks I haven't had occasion to buy, but I'm doing what I can at this point and I might as well share what I've come up with. Please comment with any corrections or additions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

YA YA (that's "young adult, young adult")

I put two more books in the brain bank in recent days: Uglies and November Blues.
Uglies, by Scott Westerfield, is a futuristic dystopian survival novel. It's the first in a series, and I've been meaning to read it for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am headed to the library for the Pretties and Specials, the next two in the trilogy. Each of the three have earned a 4.5 star average on Amazon.
November Blues, by Sharon Draper, tells the sad story of a high achieving high school student who becomes pregnant the night before her boyfriend dies. There are some surprises over the months of her pregnancy, including a custody battle and the (literal and figurative) cost analysis of parenthood.

Many teens will enjoy this book, but I found it dull. I much prefer her other books, Copper Sun in particular.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hooked On a Deadline

Chris Crutcher is the king of YA novels. He mixes athletics with complicated human relationships for a winning literary recipe every time. His books have humor, heartache, and intellectual components. The scenarios and characters that populate his pages ring true, and (perhaps best of all) he always refrains from employing an over-explaining and patronizing voice that turns off teen readers.

Deadline's protagonist is a compelling smart alec. He's got his weaknesses, like being short of stature and lifeline, and being so stubborn that he's unable to let an argument drop, but these only serve to make him more endearing somehow. The supporting characters--Cody, Coach, Rudy, and Suzuki-- as well as a manageable palette of secondary characters, are a quite adequately fleshed-out and dynamic cast.

Deadline is no exception to Crutcher's familiar and forthright treatment of complex social issues. In this case matters of racism, child abuse, education, and predatory sexual behavior are given a full-color treatment, never limited to strict delegations of right and wrong. Those who read to escape the realities of life may squirm at such sub-plots in spite of the safety assured by vicarious experience, but I'm grateful for authors like Crutcher, who are neither shy nor shepherded away from the gritty substance of life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Art of Mending

This is the first Elizabeth Berg novel I've read, though it's the thirteenth she's written. It was the cover photo of a cabinet filled with fabrics that summoned my attention, but the story held it.

Berg's observations are parceled out in small bundles of wisdom, many of which will make it into my quote collection:

"My parents were my clock and my calendar; they told me where to go and when. My parents were also the arbiters of judgment, of taste, and of politics; I stepped into their values like an outfit they'd laid out for me on my bed. Later, of course, I forged my own beliefs and rebelled against nearly everything they'd taught me" (43).
Isn't this exactly the way it goes, and all we can hope for our young? First our lives follow in the tracks forged before us, then we learn independence.

"...nobody knows what goes on in other families, because families lie about themselves to other people. Not only to other people but to one another. And to themselves" (110).
And how! I know this all too well. Honesty has a high price, but it's worth paying.

"This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead" (148).
What a precise description for a familiar sensation. There are moments, peppered throughout the day, when it's all I can do to contain a shriek of utter jubilance. Then comes the other side of the teeter-totter. Good fortune must have limits. When will mine falter?