Archive for November, 2013

Hijinks ensued

November 30, 2013 @ 9:04 pm | Filed under: Family, Holidays

So I was too busy enjoying the company of my home-too-briefly college girl and my beloved pal Kristen and her hubby and my goddaughter and the rest of my rowdy, riotous gang to REMEMBER TO TAKE ANY PICTURES (*smoke comes out of ears*)—but it seems Scott was clicking away during the frantic final moments of our feast preparation. (Who am I kidding. I was in the kitchen: all moments were frantic.) These just made me laugh and laugh. Which is exactly how I spent the holiday.

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This last one is ridiculous but Scott made me include it because he likes how I go tharn. Which, too, is a fair representation of my state of mind while cooking: train rushing toward me and I’m frozen in my tracks. Help! Hrududu ain’t got nothin’ on gravy about to scorch.

(It didn’t. Whew.)

The Monarchs are in trouble

November 25, 2013 @ 4:14 pm | Filed under: Butterflies, Nature Study

First Monarch sighting, 2011

I’ve been blogging about Monarch butterflies practically from the moment this blog began. I’ve been growing milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars, in our yard for over a decade—first in Crozet, Virginia, and then here in San Diego after our move seven years ago. When you leave a comment on this blog, if you don’t happen to have a WordPress avatar set up, the default avatar is a picture of milkweed from my garden. I made a very dopey video, once, showing some of our butterfly plants, and was lucky enough to catch a Monarch in the act of laying an egg on the underside of a leaf. We’ve been a family wrapped up in bees and butterflies for a very long time.

We had a fair number of caterpillars last year, enough to eat our five plants to the ground. But this year may be different.

This year, the giant Monarch migration that takes place in the mountains of Mexico has been, well, not exactly giant.

…for the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

The reasons aren’t a mystery:

A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.

Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.

As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.

This article touches, too, on the dire plight of the honeybee, about which I’ve had much to say on this blog over the years.

I don’t often feel helpless. But with this, I do. What can I do beyond the small acts I’ve been doing? Planting milkweed, singing the joys of bee-and-butterfly gardening, avoiding pesticides and herbicides even though that means I have a weedy garden. Keep on singing, I guess?

Eric Carle and the Story Behind ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’

November 25, 2013 @ 7:20 am | Filed under: Art, Books

“Mommy,” asked Rilla, “how do illustrators make books?”

She knows how the writing part happens, or at least the part of it that involves someone stalking down the hall into the kitchen, muttering, staring abstractedly into the open fridge, oblivious to questions, and then disappearing back behind a closed door in a room with books piled all over the place. She wants to know about the important part, the pictures.

I start to answer with words, as is my way, but I think better of it and, on a hunch, Google “Eric Carle interview video.” As I hoped, treasure awaited us at the other end of the search button.


(Video link.)

ThingsI didn’t know: that Bill Martin Jr (author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?) couldn’t read until he was twenty! And he wrote the rhythm of his stories first, then put in the words? Astonishing.

Eric Carle speaks of his own struggles in school under a strict disciplinarian teacher. “Back then, they didn’t recognize whether you were learning disabled or whatever. But I’m sure I was.”

And all the while we’re watching him make a bear in collage. I love how he cuts out circles for the bear’s eyes and turns them into ears.

There are many more videos of Mr. Carle at work. Rilla liked this one about her favorite book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.
Afterward, we found this nice video for an easy Eric Carle-style collage butterfly project.

(Video link.)

If you’re feeling more ambitious, this collage preying mantis is pretty splendid!

(Video link.)

Little bits of blog business

November 24, 2013 @ 12:45 pm | Filed under: Bloggity

I’ve been doing some housekeeping on Bonny Glen (because, you know, it’s easier than doing ACTUAL housekeeping) and decided to give it a bit of a makeover while I was at it. Just the blog, not the rest of the site. Mainly I wanted an excuse to keep on looking at these gorgeous autumn leaves (taken during my Portland trip the other week) for a while longer. I suppose this means I’ll have to overhaul yet again in a few weeks. But that’s probably about the extent of how long these colors will appeal to me, anyway. 😉

(For the link colors, I wanted to try to match one of the red-orange shades in the leaves. On a whim, I Googled “color picker from image” because surely someone has invented that magic, right? And sure enough! I found this. You hover your mouse over an image and it tells you what it thinks the hex color is for a particular pixel area. I tried a lot of shades before settling on this one, which isn’t quite as red as I was going for. But you know, house full of children yadda yadda yadda. Sooner or later you gotta say close enough.)

Anyway, I’ve checked it in various browsers and it’s looking good to me in all (except that iOS has the banner image shifted oddly to the left, and I don’t know how to fix that), but if anything looks off to you, do let me know. Thanks!

Picture Book Spotlight: Mustache Baby

November 23, 2013 @ 7:54 pm | Filed under: Books, Picture Book Spotlight

Mustache BabyMustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang.

Sometimes you just want a book that makes a kid belly laugh. From the moment Baby Billy makes his appearance, mustachioed from the get-go, Huck and Rilla were in stitches. As Billy grows, his mustache makes it easy for him to assume a variety of roles: cowboy, cop, painter, circus ringleader. But beware the toddler with a long, twirly, Snidely Whiplash mustache: you might have a wee villain on your hands. The surprise ending generated the biggest guffaw of all from my small fry. When Huck discovered the book had gone back to the library, he very nearly grew a bad-guy mustache on the spot. Don’t worry—just like Billy, he recovered his good-guy wits before any dastardly deeds were done. Mustache Baby will be making a repeat visit very soon.

“…do other people cherish and love each other like we do?”

November 23, 2013 @ 8:26 am | Filed under: Links

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This ties in beautifully (and heartbreakingly) to yesterday’s discussion: Love Letter Found on 500-Year-Old Mummified Body.

You always said, “Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day.” How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you…

Read the rest. If you can bear it. I need to go cling to Scott for a while.

“There’s a fundamental belief that the human heart hasn’t changed that much…”

November 22, 2013 @ 9:31 am | Filed under: Books

Year of Wonders by Geraldine BrooksThe historical fiction course I’m taking at Coursera continues to delight me, and this week’s Geraldine Brooks seminar on her plague novel, Year of Wonders, pretty much knocked my socks off. The professor, Dr. Bruce Holsinger of UVA, posted a long excerpt from what was also my favorite part of the seminar–Brooks on how she writes characters from other eras, how she forms their consciousness.

“And as a foreign correspondent in the contemporary world, I would hear people all the time saying, ‘They’re not like us.’ One side saying about the other—white South Africans about black, Palestinians about Israelis—‘Their values are different, they don’t love their kids, they’re willing to sacrifice them, they don’t have the same material needs that we have,’ and it’s all BS in my view. You know, the sound of somebody keening for a dead child, is exactly the same, no matter if they’re in a…New York apartment, or an Eritrean refugee camp. There’s a fundamental belief that the human heart hasn’t changed that much. … At a time when you couldn’t expect to raise your kids, when death was ever present, there would’ve been a different approach to loss. But I don’t think it felt any different, I don’t think the emotion of loss felt any different, and I don’t think hatred felt any different, and I don’t think love did. And so, that for me is, where you start, with believing that human beings have these strong emotions in common. And that, that is more crucial to shaping consciousness than the furniture in the room. So, that’s my conviction about historical fiction, and it … drives everything for me.”

There’s more, well worth the click-through. And if you sign up for the course (free), you can watch the videos. Such a treat to hear smart people talk about their work. Author Jane Alison’s seminar on her Ovid novel, The Love Artist, was also fascinating and thought-provoking. I haven’t yet watched the Katherine Howe videos (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane)—greatly looking forward to it. Dr. Holsinger’s lectures have captivated me, to a one. Lots of peeks at rare first editions from UVA’s special collections library (swoon) and really excellent, meaty discussion of various historical fiction novels in their own historical context: Tale of Two Cities, ClotelAnna Katharine Green‘s detective novel The Forsaken Inn (new to me, and the genesis of a subgenre, historical mystery). Dr. Holsinger even has me wanting to give James Fenimore Cooper another shot, which is saying something.

Looking forward to upcoming seminars on Mary Beth Keane’s Typhoid Mary novel, Fever, and Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride.

Plague, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction

Martha and Charlotte go to Indonesia

November 21, 2013 @ 8:36 pm | Filed under: Books, Little House

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I recently learned that an Indonesian publisher has purchased the reprint rights for my Martha and Charlotte books. The first two books in each series came out in 2011, and the rest of them are coming out this year, is my understanding. So much fun to see one’s work in a new language!

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Reading list for my imaginary book club

November 18, 2013 @ 7:57 pm | Filed under: Books

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt The Signature of All Things
I’m not in a book club at present, but I’ve been entertaining myself with thoughts of what books I would suggest to my book club if I belonged to one. This is because I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s sweeping, sad, thoughtful The Signature of All Things, and naturally I’m yearning for a nice long discussion of it, preferably involving baked goods. (I’m also wanting to start a moss garden, which in San Diego would be no mean feat.)

Other books I would throw into the ring:

1) The Diamond Age, Or: A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. I read it a year or two before the advent of the iPad, and when that magical device appeared, all I could think of was the Primer. I enjoyed the book’s exploration of a ‘best’ education—what that might look like, what its aims might be, and the unpredictability of outcomes. And the mind-stretching nanotechnology permeating and altering society: this is a richly layered and sometimes difficult book, with much that made me uncomfortable (something I appreciate in a book), but also a compelling page-turner of a narrative. It’s one of those books I think about in the context of daily life quite often (and not just in connection to the iPad). It would be fun to dig into with a really lively, argumentative group of readers.

2) The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. I’ll be drummed out of my own imaginary book club if I keep suggesting these mammoth tomes, but there it is. I’ve read The Children’s Book twice (three times? I’m losing track) in four or five years (also losing track; can’t be bothered to check my log now) and like The Diamond Age (and, I suspect, The Signature of All Things), it’s a book I find myself pondering in many a stray moment. A curling fern frond, a strand of seaweed, a beautifully glazed pot, the Nesbit books on my shelf, a reference to William Morris, a pre-Raphaelite painting, a sinister undercurrent in a fairy tale—any number of things send me straight back into the pulsing green world of this Fabian family and their troubled, talented, struggling circle of artist-friends. Downton Abbey was full of reminders (Lavinia’s clothes, Sybil’s causes, Branson’s political activism, the devastation and radical shifting of relationships and ways of life during and after WWI). No work of fiction in recent years has sent me on more rabbit trails, nor hounded my thoughts so relentlessly.

3) Feed by M. T. Anderson. It’s been several years; I’m due for a reread. Every year this book feels more prescient. We may not have the Feed implanted in our brains quite yet, but we’re closer than we were the first time I read it. Won’t it be fun to fumble for words about how alarming we found the notion of a society so dependent on an advertising-driven stream of information piped directly into their minds that people can barely form a coherent thought anymore, much less an original one? And then we can all post photos of our desserts to Instagram.

4) Hmm, we’ll need something by Muriel Spark. A Far Cry from Kensington, I think, but perhaps I’m leaning too much on my own favorites. Certainly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie would provide fodder for hours of discussion. Actually, Miss Brodie would make a tremendous follow-up to Feed and The Diamond Age: all of them exploring ways of educating (even shaping) young minds. Oh, what am I talking about—Signature and The Children’s Book fall right into that category as well. Education isn’t by any means the only theme of these books, but it’s a dominant thread in each, one way or another. You’d almost think this was a pet topic of mine, or something.

5) Well then, let me throw something entirely different into the mix: how about American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. I can brag about how he’s a friend and former classmate of mine, and of course we’ll have to have a tasting party to accompany our discussion of this book, a fascinating exploration of how terrain affects flavor (in many subtle ways), and why certain regions are famous for specific foods. I’ll bring the chocolate, you bring the maple syrup.

6) Now here I go reverting back to favorite books about unconventional upbringings, but when’s the last time you read Midnight Hour Encores? It’s one of my favorite YA novels, right up there with Emily of Deep Valley (though utterly unlike) and…hmm, that’s a different list, my favorite YA. Anyway: Encores features one of my favorite dads in all of literature, and an ending that takes my breath away every time.

7) But it isn’t quite fair of me to stack the deck with books I’ve already read, most of them more than twice. How about something new? I’ve got Donna Tartt’s latest, The Goldfinch, on hold at the library. I’m #70 in the queue, but since this is an imaginary book club, I’ll just imagine myself next in line.

How about you? What’s up next in your book club—real or imagined?