Archive for May, 2011

Shareworthy, yes?

May 31, 2011 @ 7:44 pm | Filed under: Links, Science

A Rare Eclipse of the Midnight Sun – NASA Science.

(Am I the only person for whom any mention of the midnight sun immediately and powerfully evokes Papa’s Wife? Man, how I loved that book.)

Quick survey about linksharing

May 31, 2011 @ 1:07 pm | Filed under: Bloggity, Social Media

Since my favorite thing about the internet is that it is one giant game of Show and Tell—you show me the neat stuff you’ve found, and I’ll show you the neat stuff I’ve found—I am perpetually pondering the best way to share things. I have this sort of hazily defined system for determining how to share a given link—whether in a post here on the blog, or via Facebook or Twitter or Google Reader or what. But I’m never sure what people actually prefer. (I’m sure it varies wildly.)

Well, anyway, I thought I’d ask. I’m interested in your general preference—i.e. where you, on the internet at large, prefer to encounter new links & are most likely to click through—as well as your preference regarding my shared links specifically.

For example, do you:

* like when I do a post here with links to three or four things that caught my interest (a la Delicious), perhaps with short notes about what made them jump out at me?

* prefer to check Google Reader Shared Items? (And if so, do you use the list in my blog sidebar, or do you read the “people you follow” section in your own Google Reader?)

* like when people share links on Facebook?

* hate when people share links on Facebook?

* keep as far away from Facebook as you possibly can?

* prefer linksharing on Twitter?

* deplore linksharing on Twitter?

* wonder why people like me are so doggone Twitterhappy in the first place?

* get annoyed when people pour their Twitter feeds into Facebook, so you’re stuck seeing each post twice?

* wonder if I’m overthinking this?

* subscribe to my Diigo feed (which was formerly my Delicious feed)?

* find yourself saying, Diigo huh?

* wonder if this post is a means of procrastinating some other task I ought to be doing, such as, to use a completely arbitrary example, tallying up my deductible expenses from the research trip so I won’t have to be plunged into hell come next April?

* need to break it to me gently that you skip over all that linky stuff, period, because let’s face it, you are coming here for book recommendations and/or pictures of bees?

Or, you know, none of the above. 😉 I’m just curious. And not procrastinating at ALL, no sir.

Oh bees, I cannot quit you

May 31, 2011 @ 9:13 am | Filed under: Nature Study, Photos

More of my love letters to bees:

All my photos look the same
Petal nests
Fruitless Fall
Oh, for a bee’s experience
Fairy dust

Sciency fiction and nonfiction

May 30, 2011 @ 12:22 pm | Filed under: Books, Science

A booklist I’m putting together for later use:

Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science trilogy. Jeanne Faulconer’s review shifted these from “I keep meaning to take a look at those” to “that’s what I’ll use my gift certificate on.”

Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders. A beautiful and informative picture book about Darwin’s travels, observations, thought processes, conclusions.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Jane & I both enjoyed this thoughtful biography last year; I’d like for Rose and Beanie to read it too.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. This frank and funny middle-grade novel set in 1899 was one of my favorite reads of 2010, and I wasn’t a bit surprised when it took the Newbery Honor that year. Three or four of us have read it already, but I don’t think Beanie has yet, and its tomboy heroine is very much up her alley. (An aside: this book would make an interesting pairing with New Dawn on Rocky Ridge, another turn-of-the-century tale.)

Archimedes and the Door to Science by Jeanne Bendick; also her Galen and Galileo books. Longtime Jane favorites, as is The Mystery of the Periodic Table, which seems to have been co-authored by Jeanne Bendick and Benjamin Wiker.

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos A. Smith. My friend Eileen recommended this picture book a while back.

Some of No Starch Press’s Manga Guides: Electricity, Physics, Relativity, etc. And I’d like a look at Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Guide to Physics.

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Jane loved this book; I’m eager for a crack at it myself. An account of Peter and Rosemary Grant’s twenty years observing the finches of Daphne Major in the Galapagos.

The Voyage of the Beagle: Darwin’s account of his journey.

If you were along for my Fruitless Fall bee-frenzy two years ago, you may recall that the author, Rowan Jacobsen, was an MFA-program classmate of mine at UNC-Greensboro. The other day I remembered that I hadn’t checked in a while to see what new and interesting books he might have out. WELL. I read the sample chapters of his American Terroir, The Living Shore, and Shadows on the Gulf: A Journey through Our Last Great Wetland, and, well, now all three books are on their way. Scott insisted, and Jane—who loved his book on chocolate even more than the bee book, which is saying something—is ecstatic.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Picture book I’ve heard good things about but haven’t read yet.

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin, a perfectly gorgeous book by the great Peter Sis.

I’ll be adding to this list over time. For example, I know we have good biographies of Marie Curie and Pasteur that Jane has read more than once, but not the other girls. Jacqueline Houtman’s The Reinvention of Edison Thomas might fit the bill; I’ve wanted to read that one since the author’s interesting presentation at Kidlitcon last fall. I love her description of ‘sciency fiction’ as the genre she works in:

“In sciency fiction, science (actual, accurate, non-speculative science) is integral to the plot and/or thematic content of the novel. The characters and events may be fictional, but the science is not. Sciency fiction is not science fiction.”

(Mind you, I’m a huge science fiction fan, as well. Jane says she can’t imagine growing up without Ender’s Game. [Mature language warning for that one, okay?] But in recent years I have become more and more hooked on what Jacqueline calls sciency fiction, as well as science-themed nonfiction.)

Feel free to chime in with sciency fiction and nonfiction your kids have enjoyed. I’m particularly interested in picture books. Snowflake Bentley, perhaps?

Decoration Day in Deep Valley

May 30, 2011 @ 6:19 am | Filed under: Books

“When Colonel Coville told us to charge,” he said, “nobody ran out on that field any faster than Aaron Sibley.”

“You ran fast enough to get a bullet through your arm.”

“Only winged, only winged,” he answered impatiently. “It might have been death for any one of us.”

It was for a good many of them, Emily remembered. She had heard her grandfather say many times that only forty-seven had come back out of two hundred and sixty-two who had made the gallant charge.

—from Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace.

That thing that makes me cry

May 29, 2011 @ 8:09 pm | Filed under: Books

This has it.

It seems Newsweek described Grand Rapids as a dying city. The people of Grand Rapids beg to differ.

Alabama bug question

May 28, 2011 @ 6:57 pm | Filed under: Nature Study

A coppery-colored* flying insect, about the size of a small butterfly, with translucent, veined wings like a leafhopper. The wings were much smaller in proportion to the body than is the case with a butterfly. Skinny, bent, grasshoppery legs (um, I think, if I’m remembering correctly). From its head, a little upward-curving horn (not really a horn, but that’s what it looked like, almost a rhino effect). And upcurling pincers or something from the back end, as well.

Any idea what that was?

*(Huh. In the one regrettably unfocused, unhelpful photo I snapped, the thing looks more like a yellow-green. Long skinny body. It was the curling tail and horn that intrigued me!)

EDITED TO ADD the unhelpful photo. My camera couldn’t focus on the thing, plus I was inside looking through the glass door to which he was clinging. All you get from this picture is (maybe) an idea of coloring and body shape. I’d say he was a little over an inch long. The blurry horizontal bars are miniblinds.

Trip tidbits

May 28, 2011 @ 6:45 pm | Filed under: Alabama, Photos, Travel, Work in progress

So I went to Alabama for research. I have volumes to tell about the trip—Scott says I could write a book about the writing of this book! I am working on a detailed account of the trip, but I will probably save most of it for when the book actually comes out. But for now, a few highlights.

We flew into Atlanta last Saturday night—or actually, it was early Sunday morning, I guess. Was nearly 2am by the time we reached our hotel. That’s only 11pm San Diego time, so it wasn’t too awful. On Sunday morning we met our friends Brian Stelfreeze and Stine Walsh for brunch at Ria’s Bluebird, which is now one of my Favorite Places to Eat, Ever.

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I could have eaten three bowls of those grits. The omelette was mushroom and fontina, if you’re like me and like to know as many details about people’s meals as possible. Also: homemade peach jam on those English muffins, and killer sweet tea.

We lingered long over our meal, and then lingered even longer in a baking parking lot talking to Brian and Stine, because we don’t get to see them that often and they are wonderful. I didn’t take any pictures! Unless you count my photo of a stinkbug on Brian’s shirt. What’s the matter with me?

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed west. First stop: Hueytown, Alabama, just south of Birmingham to visit my Great-Aunt Cinderella and Great-Uncle Terrell. Yup, Cinderella is her real name—but you can call her Aunt Cindy.

Aunt Cindy is my father’s aunt. Her older sister, Bettye, was the family genealogist and the person who first introduced me to the chapter of our family history that is the subject of my book. Aunt Cindy had her photo albums ready and waiting for me, and we spent several happy hours looking through them. She is a marvelous storyteller. This was to be a recurring delight on our trip—time with marvelous storytellers. I could have happily spent the whole week eating up Aunt Cindy’s stories. Uncle Terrell had some good ones of his own, too, but Scott had to tell them to me later because Aunt Cindy and I were talking a mile a minute.

All too soon we had to get back on the road. We wanted to reach our hotel before dark.

Alabama sky

We stayed in [Small Town] but didn’t spend much time there. Our real destination was [I will tell you when I can]. First thing Monday morning, we drove to the County Archives in the heart of town. This county has a rich and unusual history in which my ancestors played a large part, and, well, that’s why I want to write about it, and I can’t wait until I can talk about it more openly. The incredibly nice folks at the Archives knew we were coming and were so kind to us all week, helping me look up information on old churches and schools and cemeteries and ancestors. And one day I will tell you all about where and what and who and why.

By an incredible stroke of luck, a distant relative of mine happened to be at the Archives when we first walked in. Of course, we didn’t know we were relatives right at first. I mentioned I was working on a certain branch of the family, and one of the archive volunteers said, “Oh, you need to talk to Darryal!” and motioned this kindly fellow over. He is a local historian and teller of fine tales, and one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. Right away he offered to “carry us” to some cemeteries and other sites of relevance to my work. Not that morning—he was on his way to the funeral of his aunt who had died at the age of 105—but if we’d return the next morning, he’d be there.

Well. That was pretty exciting indeed. We spent the rest of Monday morning working in the Archives—my heroic husband spent at least an hour making photocopies for me—and then we moseyed down the street for a stunningly delicious meal at the local diner. (We liked it so much we ate there the next two days.) Best carrot cake I’ve ever had. (I liked it so much I ate it the next two days.)

After lunch we went out driving, exploring the area. Our wanderings took us through some of the tornado-ravaged towns I wrote about the other day. We also visited this old jail.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, we met up with Cousin Darryal (it’s pronounced Darrell) at the Archives. He climbed into our rental car and steered us toward the first of three cemeteries on our morning’s agenda. And this is where I could tell tons of stories, but I’m saving them for the book. Suffice it to say that Darryal is an expert on parts of the chapter of history I’m writing about, and we got along like gangbusters. He’s absolutely a kindred spirit—a real live Matthew Cuthbert. And he very generously gave us his entire day—amazing.

We quickly established our shared ancestry. His great-grandfather was the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather. The patriarch of one of the families I’m writing about is our mutual ancestor: Darryal’s 2nd-great, my 4th-great. (And also my 5th-great, due to a marriage of first cousins once removed a little on down the line).

The grave of one of the other brothers (there were nine of them altogether). Darryal is one of the people whose efforts keep these graves well tended and adorned with flowers.

It was kind of an emotional morning. These people I’ve been writing about, who have become so real to me, my great-great-greats and great-great-great-greats, there they were, their names on the stones. I’m kind of glossing over the real stories here, because I really do want to save them for the book. But it was quite something, seeing their graves and (later) walking on their land.

Darryal took us to see a creek bluff where one of my ancestors hid out for a while, and many other sites. And when I mentioned some of the other families I’m writing about, he said I needed to meet his buddy O’Neal, who—as it turns out—is ALSO my third cousin twice removed, but through an entirely different family line. He’s not kin to Darryal; they went to high school together. They both knew my father’s Aunt Bettye very well—“She was a dear friend to me,” said Darryal. “We dearly miss her.”

And so it came about that the next morning, we met Cousin Neal, and he took us on a tour of a whole different set of sites. We visited the cemetery where our mutual ancestor (again, his 2nd-great, my 4th-great) is buried, and then, O marvel of marvels!, he drove us right out to the spot where that ancestor homesteaded. I got to see where the house once stood, and we bumped down a steep branchy-slope-formerly-known-as-a-road to see the very spot in the river where the people in my book almost certainly swam and fished and swatted mosquitoes.

Cousin Neal is another born storyteller, with a deep and resonant voice, and a merry twinkle in his eye. He too gave us a full day of his time, even inviting us home to meet his wife Dot, where showed me some wonderful photos and even gave me some to keep. I could have stayed there a week, too.

Actually what I’d love to do is move my family there for the next year and write the novel in that beautiful hill country. I guess I’ll have to make do with going back someday—this time with the whole gang in tow, and my parents too. Perhaps when the book comes out.

Cousin Darryal
Cousin Darryal

Cousin Neal
Cousin Neal

Um, maybe I don’t have to go after all.

May 28, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Filed under: Photos, Travel

 

Sign on the door of the restroom at Ria’s Bluebird Cafe in Atlanta.