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1. What I'm Taking to Uni

So this past few months, many exciting things have been happening for me, which have been better documented on instagram and twitter. I had another packed Edinburgh Fringe, full of brilliant comedians, poets, and theatre pieces. I've had some great times with my friends, which is just as well because we're now scattered across the country and the continent,  because we're all off to uni! I can't believe I was in Year 8 when I started this blog and I now I've got a place at my first choice university to study Classics and French, but hey, time flies!

Along the many bags of clothes and equipment I have packed before I move into the college tomorrow, obviously, I have books, and I thought I'd share what I'm taking. But first, exciting news... 


I got nominated, alongside Sally of The Dark Dictator, and Andrew of The Pewter Wolf, in the UKYA Blogger Awards for Champion of Diversity! Thank you for everyone who nominated me, in despite of the fact that my championing of diverse books, at least this past couple of years, hasn't really been via my blog, more in person- see my TEDx Talk on why you should read diversely, which I might vlog some day seeing as I'm not sure what happened to the footage, the We Need Diverse Books board we put up at my school that stayed in a main corridor for over a year, and anyone who has read Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda because they asked me for a recommendation and that's been my go to book to pass on. I hope to be able to step up both my blog and my promotion of a range of books in the future, and it's nice to have a little spur to do so. And congrats to everyone else who got nominated, in all categories! You can find a list of all categories and nominees here (until it gets buried when they tweet other things).


The main post is under the cut- the books I'm  taking-and hopefully keeping up there, if they fit on whatever shelving they give me!




My Course Books

The books that I'll be studying. I've read all the required bits, so here's a summary of what they're about  and what I thought of them.


  • The Poems of Catullus, translated by James Minchie. My copy of this is falling apart, so I put it in a binder ring. I love most of Catullus' works-it's often funny or emotional or both- he crosses the line a lot though!
  • Juvenal's Satires, translated by Peter Green. Using anecdotes, it reads like a long list of complaints about Roman society, pointing out all the various moral failings that have come through.
  • En Attendant Godot (Waiting For Godot) by Samuel Beckett. It's a play of two men who are waiting for Godot. They contemplate life, meet a handful other people, and wonder why they do so. It feels like Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, a lot of talk, less things happening, good to study, probably boring to watch.
  • Supplement au Voyage de Bouganville (Supplement to Bougainville's Journey) by Denis Diderot, I liked the depiction of Tahitan society, and also the way it contrast Tahitian and European society and ideals.
  • The Poems of Propertius, translated by H. E. Butler, of which I read Book 1. Mostly love poetry, describing his relationship with Cynthia, but there's a couple of poems for friends too.  
  • Essais (Essays), of which I read Des Cannibales by Michel de Montaigne, Again contrasting  European society with another. I liked the challenge of reading the 16th century French.
  • The Satyricon by Petronius. A pair of lovers go wandering around the continent, meeting the weirdest of society. Ends abruptly, though probably due to losing the text, but the various episodes, satirising different figures in society, are...interesting.
  • Cicero's Defence Speeches, of which I read Pro Caelio. Here Cicero is trying to defend Caelius against charges of violence andmurder, which he does by presenting Caelius as a young man of outstanding virtue, even if he has made some mistakes, and by presenting Clodia Metelli, whose evidence would be important to the case, as a whore. It's funny in some places, misogynistic in many more, and is basically blaming a woman for anything a man does wrong.
  • The Aeneid by Virgil. Following Aeneas, a Trojan noble who flees Troy after its defeat, as he wanders, searching for a new place for his people to settle down. A fair bit of travelling gives way to some really graphically battles. I have a lot of love for Camilla, the warrior woman who's featured in book 11.
  • Phedre by Jean Racine. The mythological story of a queen who falls in love with her stepson and the husband/father's rashness is presented here in a play. I enjoyed the rhythm of this as I read this aloud, and I liked how it didn't completely villainise Phedre (ok, the blame all shifts on to the Nurse but I feel Phedre gets presented in a worse light in Euripedes' and Seneca's versions so it's nice she gets a little more sympathy here)

Supplementary Books 

Books kind of relating to Classics and French, but not directly relevant (this term)- intended for when I want to do something different but also feel productive! 
  • Les Femmes Savantes by Moliere
  • Les  Fleurs de Mal by Charles Baudelaire
  • Les Mains Sales by Jean Paul Sartre
  • World Mythology by Mark Daniels
  • Bisexuality in the Ancient World by Eve Cantarella
  • The Latin Love Poets by R.O.A.M. Lyne
  • Frangine by Marion Brunet (and then I can finally give this back to Caroline- sorry for keeping this so long!)
  • Goddesses, Whores, Wives, & Slaves by Sarah Pomeroy

Fun Books

The ones that will be for pleasure, for review, and for hopeful enjoyment!

  • The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt. Set in 1960s America, this historical thriller plus hypnotism looks intriguing.
  • Life: A User's Manuel by Georges Perec. I picked this up for the title. I'm hoping for good things from the many many characters.
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I haven't read Everything, Everything yet either, but I've heard lots of people enjoyed it.
  • Girl Trouble by Carol Dyhouse. A looking at how society perceives women and what they do throughout the 20th century.
  • Daughters of Time - A History Girls Anthology. I love how there's a range of time periods the women at the centre of each story is drawn from, and a range of things they do. 
  • The Genius and the Goddess by Alduous Huxley. I got this as a surprise gift, so I don't know what to expect. I didn't mind Brave New World, and I'm hoping i like this as much as I did that, or more.
  • As I Descended by Robin Talley. This is the one book I've been waiting for all year, and I'm slightly scared to read it with such high expectations (lesbian contemporary Macbeth!). I'll get to it soon though.
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Between Shades of Grey was such a beautiful book, I have high hopes for this one as well.
  • Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton. A mute girl falls for the new girl. I remember getting excited for this, but never getting round to it.
  • The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. I love this fantasy series with the detailed world building and the clever characters (especially the ship of lady pirates introduced in book 2). I also hear we get to meet the main character's lost love in this book, something I've been waiting for.
I know I'm being very overoptimistic with my for fun books here, considering I have eight weeks and a lot more reading I'll get once I'm there, but at least I won't be running out of things to get through!  What books would you suggest I get through first? And what would you take from a packed to-read shelf to last you for a couple of months?

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2. From the Sketchbook: France

When I travel I love to write and sketch during the trip. It takes a bit of effort (and the co-operation of any fellow travelers, who are stuck for 20 minutes while I work) but the sketches capture details that the photographs miss, and the process forces me to take the time to genuinely observe the environment instead of rushing off to the next attraction.

Marée au Mont Saint Michel

Marée au Mont Saint Michel

Sketching Mont St Michel

Sketching the above scene of the tide coming in at Mont Saint Michel (just before it started to rain.)

These images are from a recent trip to France. Drawing outdoors poses exciting challenges, including distracting crowds of gawking tourists, unpredictable weather conditions, and constantly changing light. It started to rain part way through the above sketch of Mont Saint Michel, and I was forced to quit and finish it later. (I was also afraid I’d drop something off the cliff. It’s hard to tell from the photo  but that ledge is actually convex, so things kept wanting to roll off toward the ocean.)

One easy place to sketch is from your hotel window. Here’s my morning view of rooftops in the medieval heart of Blois, France:

Sketch of rooftops in Blois, France

Some artists have portable supplies like folding stools or lightweight easels so they can easily and comfortably paint anywhere. Maybe someday I’ll get my own fancy plein air equipment. For now, it looks like this:  (Notice how I am precariously balancing the palette on my knee. It’s a delicate setup.)

Sketching the Chateau de Chambord

Sketching the Chateau de Chambord. Photo by my patient husband, Jonathan.

Watercolor of the chateau de Chambord, Loire et Cher, France

My sketch of Chambord. I'm not sure that roof line could get any more complicated.

I’m consistently amazed at the difference in color between my sketches and photographs of the same subject. The photographs tend toward gray, with all color completely lost in the shadowy areas.

Les Faux de Verzy

Les Faux de Verzy: weird, genetic mutant trees in Champagne.

Incredibly, this is the same tree as above.

Incredibly, this is the same tree as above. Maybe I just have an overly colorful imagination?

I noticed so many details while I sketched: birds singing, bumblebees crawling into holes, clouds drifting by, the murmurings of conversations around me. Sometimes I was greeted by a stray cat or had a chat with a local or tourist who also had an interest in art. The sketches don’t always turn out as perfectly as paintings made in a studio, but they’re so much more interesting.

Do you sketch and paint while you travel? Share any tips you have in the comments!

Saint-Malo

St Malo. The tide changed drastically while I painted this.

Painting the walled city of St Malo

Painting the walled city of St Malo.

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3. Inky

I was away last night having a consultation with my tattoo artist. Yup, I’m going to get a new tattoo. Some of you may know I have a couple already. It has been several years and for a while I thought I might be done. But I have always wanted something bookish. I never thought it would ever happen because every time I thought about it nothing felt right and when you are getting something permanently inked on your skin you want it to be right.

As the years passed I’ve been leaning toward a quote, but what one? There are so many good ones, so many meaningful ones for me that I just couldn’t decide. But about a year ago I landed on a quote from a Sonia Sanchez poem (if you have never read Sanchez, she is a-mazing!) and thought just maybe. I have been sitting with it for months mulling it over to make sure it felt right. And it began to feel so right that I started to imagine what it might look like on my skin. And late in 2015 when I could picture myself with this tattoo I decided it was time to get it.

The shop I am going to is called Jackalope and it is not far from my house. It is a woman-owned shop and I heard about it on public radio. Their reviews are nothing but positive. Their online portfolios are amazing. I sent them an email.

I met my artist last night. Her name is Amo (short for Amoreena). She is twenty-something, has blue hair, a nose piercing, beautiful tattoos. She is perky and confident, loves doing lettering and is also an expert in watercolor technique. Perfect. We talked about what I want and I left feeling like she is going to do a really beautiful piece. My appointment to get inked is April 23rd. I can hardly wait.

Amo is going to design the script herself but I am to send her examples of lettering I like. I am also to send her examples of watercolor tattoo work I like.

At this point you are probably wondering what the tattoo is going to be of. Here is the quote:

The words loved me and I loved them in return

A perfect bookish quote for both reading and writing. The words are going to spiral down my left arm and there will likely be some watercolor ink drops splashed along it in a few places.

The rightness of the quote was cemented even more a few days ago when I found out there is a Sonia Sanchez documentary. The Los Angeles Review of Books has a great article about Sanchez and the making of the film. It has a few examples of her poetry and an interview with the women who made the film that will be airing on March 8 on PBS for International Women’s Day. At first I was worried that Sanchez had died and I had not heard about it, but she is 81 and happily alive and well and participated in the film.

There is no denying now that this is the right quote and the right time to get it. So many things to look forward to in April. Chickens at the beginning of the month and a new tattoo at the end! And yes, I will take pictures so you can see what it looks like.


Filed under: Books, Personal, Poetry Tagged: tattoo

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4. Love story, part infinity

Greg Taylor (1975-2015)
My beloved husband, Greg Taylor, passed away on December 25, 2015, Christmas afternoon, around 2:30 pm.

I would like to share our love story.


We met on Craigslist (yes, Craigslist--they have a dating site). On a Sunday afternoon, September 23, 2007, I answered his personal ad and we exchanged our first emails. His personals posting had the heading as simply "hi" and the post was a list of funny and random things about him, including "I'm taller than you, even if you're tall."

I responded with "hi back" and a corresponding list, including "I'm shorter than you, even if you're short. But most people say I don't 'look' short."


We met for the first time on a Friday night, September 28, after work in front of the (now gone) Virgin Megastore in Union Square. I arrived first, and was listening to my iPod. As he approached, I removed my headphones, got flustered because he was so handsome, and my earbuds got tangled. I handed them to him to hold for a second, a gesture he for some reason found endearing and would mention for years later. We decided to walk and find a place to eat, and ended up at Yaffa Cafe on St. Mark's Street (also now gone). For many years later, on September 28 we would go back and meet in front of the Virgin Megastore, which eventually was turned into a Duane Reade drugstore (of course).


We sat in the back courtyard and talked and talked and talked. He was a fifth-grade teacher, I was a children's book editor, he was studying history in grad school, I was always thirsty to learn more about everything. I liked sushi, he didn't eat raw meat. I had gone skydiving, he preferred his feet on the ground. But we couldn't stop looking into each other's eyes. His eyes were the most beautiful blue-gray. He told me they changed colors in the light, and I later discovered that they were sometimes flecked with green.


I had a birthday party to attend later that night in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, and asked him if he wanted to come with me. When he agreed, I knew he liked me. (He had told me earlier that he hated Williamsburg.) He told me later that when I asked him to come with me, he knew I liked him, too.


Now here's the "falling in love" montage. Kissing like there was no tomorrow. Going for walks--he showed me his neighborhood in Brooklyn and we walked to the Brooklyn museum and watched a dog frolic in the jumping fountain. It was there that we took our first picture together:



This is also the hat he wore when we first met.
Meeting each other's friends. House and dog sitting out in New Jersey (he LOVED dogs). Teaching me to play golf (he LOVED golf). Drinking a lot of wine (he LOVED wine). Introducing me to opera. Going to parties and weddings together, going to lots and lots of diners. (Later, when we briefly were looking to buy an apartment, it was important to us that the neighborhood have a diner.) Emails, texts, phone calls. Making each other laugh. Holidays. Supporting each other's careers.
Dog sitting Maggie, Roxie, and Caesar
He would share the books I edited with his students, especially Grace Lin's Year of the Dog, and he would proudly tell his students that he was friends with the real-life Melody who was a character in the book. When I attended his school's holiday concert, he introduced me as Melody and I was a celebrity. I later spoke to his school about being a children's book editor.

We took a trip out to Iowa together, where he spent his summers as a kid. Showing off, he took us down a backroad where we promptly got stuck in the mud and he had to call his uncle for help--they laughed and said he was a city boy now. 


Not a smart thing to do in a rental PT Cruiser
He started flying out to my parents' home in Southern California with me and ended up falling in love with California, and especially my parents' backyard. (He wanted to live there. In my parents' basement.) We played a lot of tennis and golf.


His mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he flew out to stay with her for six months to care for her. I went to visit him while he was there and spent Thanksgiving with his family and stayed in his childhood home.

We moved in together into his tiny 5th-floor walk-up apartment in Park Slope. The two of us and his two cats, Venus and Serena, made a nice family. And then in October 2011 he proposed, on the same rock in Central Park where my parents got engaged.

We were married less than a year later on July 21, 2012, in my parents backyard.




It was a glorious day, and we were excited to start a life together as husband and wife. 


And then he was diagnosed with cancer, synovial sarcoma, about six months after our wedding. You can read about that initial journey here. Major surgery, long recover, chemo, and then another long recovery.


Just as Greg was starting to regain his strength, we found out that his cancer had recurred in January 2014. We knew that with Greg's type of cancer, once it came back, there was no cure. At first, Greg didn't want any treatment--he didn't want to go through chemo again. We decided to travel--to Rome, and then Paris. Greg left the US for the first time (aside from Mexico) in February 2014 and we went to Rome and had a glorious week. Before he died, Greg wanted to walk where Augustus walked.






On the night before we were to leave for Paris, he was struck by excruciating tumor pain. We stayed in Rome for another week while we stabilized the pain, and then flew back to NY where he agreed to try a pill form of chemo. We were told that if the chemo worked, it would probably only work for 3-4 months. That pill ended up working for 18 months, and although he wasn't feeling great all the time, we were able to still have a relatively stable life. The chemo turned his facial pigmentation and hair snow white. He hated how his face looked and so he covered it with facial hair. Kids especially would stare at him--either thinking he was a pirate, or Santa, or, as we joked, a pirate Santa. Twice, once in our apartment lobby, and once at the Brooklyn Museum, he had a kid point to him and say, "Look! It's a pirate!"

Right before pirate Santa decided to shave his beard off.
We went to the US Open, a few hockey games and baseball games, and took a trip down to Atlantic City to see Bob Dylan perform.

Through it all, Greg handled his illness with courage and grace. It wasn't easy by any means, but I was eternally grateful to him for how he accepted and dealt with his situation. He knew this cancer would probably kill him, and although he was terrified of dying, his goal was to get as many good days out of life as possible. He had always been loving and attentive and romantic, but these past three years, he became even more so. 


For my 40th birthday last year, because he knew he didn't have the energy to take me out or throw me a party, he threw me a cyber party instead. He got over 100 T-shirts made in our wedding colors (fuchsia and purple) with the Chinese character for "love" on the back, and my last name in Chinese "Ling" on the front, to match the tattoo on my shoulder. He sent them to friends and families all around the US, and asked them to take pictures of themselves in the shirts and email, Tweet, and Facebook the pictures to me on my birthday. Here are just a few:




He told me he needed to make sure to tell me how much he loved me as much as he could in the time he had left. He told me that I should feel comforted in knowing how much I made his life better. He told me how in awe he was that he had met me, that I had responded to that one Craigslist ad so many years ago. He left me love notes around the apartment, on my computer, in my wallet. We had so many silly inside jokes, and I'm mourning the passing of what was known only between us. And of the children we never had (he was SO GREAT with kids, and would have made an amazing father), of our future that has been cut short.

But, I'm also so so so grateful for the time we had together. I loved him unconditionally. I loved his all-enveloping hugs, his sweet kisses in the middle of the night. I think we probably laughed even more together in these past three years--it became almost a competition to make the other laugh. We made up funny dances and funny voices. He got more and more into music, especially Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and John Lennon (he admired the great love between John and Yoko), and also discovered a love for Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson, Motown. But, Bob Dylan above all.  


Gradually, the chemo stopped working, and Greg started having more and more pain. We tried one last chemo, which worked for two months, and we knew that we were running out of options. A few months ago, we found out that Greg had a spot in an immunotherapy trial at Sloan Kettering, and we jumped at the chance. It was a Phase 1 trial, never tested on humans, but we knew if there was someday going to be a cure, it was probably going to be through immunotherapy. But on the day he was due to start, they discovered that his liver levels were high, which disqualified him from the trial, and the doctor sent him over to the hospital to see if they could solve the problem so that he could start the trial.


He had a procedure done to help drain the bile from the liver (which they thought was causing the high levels). Unfortunately, his liver levels didn't improve, and other liver levels were starting to get high as well. We knew that he had at least one tumor in the liver, and that once the liver starts to go, it can end quickly.

Every night after I left the hospital to go home, he sent me a text. "I love you sweetheart. More than anything. You are such a superhero." His last text to me was, "You are the best thing to ever happen to me." He was the best thing to ever happen to me, too. 

Eventually, they started Greg on chemo while in the hospital, and he was released on December 23rd--we were thrilled to have him home for the holidays! This is the last picture we took together, in his hospital room while waiting for our ride home:
As my mother told Greg the last time she saw him, "You're still very handsome!"
After one night at home (Venus was ecstatic to have us both home again!), we ended up calling 911 and going to the ER in an ambulance on Christmas Eve. Greg had been struggling with nausea and ended up vomiting blood and fainting a few times. He was admitted into the ICU for observation, as they suspected internal bleeding. But, he appeared stable after getting fluids, with no symptoms aside from some weakness and dizziness.

But on Friday morning he suddenly started having seizures, and then started bleeding profusely internally. The doctors were able to stabilize him with a breathing tube and blood transfusions, but we knew there wasn't hope for a full recovery, and I knew Greg didn't want any drastic measures taken just to keep him alive. They removed the breathing tube and Greg rested peacefully for a few hours before passing on while I held his hand.

Over the two-week hospital stay, we knew that the end was coming--Greg said he didn't know if he had days, or weeks, or months, so he was going to focus on enjoying each minute with me. I'm going to focus on each minute at a time. And breathing. This last year especially, Greg was struggling, and his bad days were outnumbering his good days. Recently, he said that the pain and complications he was having were making it easier to let go. I know he is at peace now.

Greg did not want to have a funeral, but he will be buried in Iowa where he spent his summers. He wanted his body to rest under open skies.

If you want to offer some support, please donate money towards sarcoma research--if I may suggest, the Sarcoma Foundation of America: http://www.curesarcoma.org
or Mt. Sinai for Sarcoma research: https://philanthropy.mountsinai.org/waystogive

Greg started his care at Mt. Sinai with Dr. Robert Maki and Nurse Practitioner Linda Ahn (who is now at Sloan Kettering). They made the whole process more comforting for both of us, and even though I wish we had never had to meet them, I'm thankful they were in our lives. 

I'm grateful to his many doctors and nurses--at Mt. Sinai, at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and at New York Methodist. They have such a tough, important job, and see suffering and death every day.

I'm also so blessed to have such loving friends and family and colleagues, including the authors and illustrators I work with, who have supported us over the years and are mourning the loss of Greg, too. This isn't a unique journey that we traveled on--what's devastating is that so many people are touched by tragedy.

I know Greg didn't want a big deal made of his death. But, for my own healing, I wanted to acknowledge publicly what an extraordinary man he was. He was full of passions--whether it was golf, wine, watches, jewelry, opera, American history, Chinese history, Andy Kaufman, dogs, cats, lacrosse, soccer...or me!--when he loved something, he loved it with all of himself, and learned everything he could. He was supremely moral, had a kind heart, and was sometimes loyal to a fault. He was sardonic, sarcastic, self-deprecating, and silly. He could put kids at ease in seconds. He had a deep voice that got higher and lighter when he was in pain--I knew he was feeling strong when his voice was deep. He was ticklish, and especially hated when I touched his feet. He watched the same movies over and over again, memorized the best lines, and would constantly call me to watch funny scenes. He also loved pointing out continuity errors. When he was in pain, he told me it helped him when I held his hand. 

His favorite books were The Plague by Albert Camus, and Sophie's Choice by William Styron. His favorite song was "Love Minus Zero" by Bob Dylan. His favorite movie was "Deer Hunter." 

People loved to tease him--he had the kind of personality that made people feel like he could take it. But he was sometimes sensitive about it. Sometimes he just wanted people to be nice to him. He was ferocious (but nice!) when dealing with customer service, and usually got what he wanted. He hated being told what to do, but I knew he took everything in, even when he was arguing (and when he was arguing, he always sounded angrier than he really was), and was able to keep an open mind. He was always so proud of me and my career, and embarrassed me by boasting about me to everyone he knew. And he was an astonishingly good teacher--so many of his students stayed in touch with him, and I feel lucky to have met so many of them. He made a difference in their lives. He made a difference in the world. 

Although he was an introvert at heart, he was the mayor of his old block. He knew everyone and they knew him. He was buddies with all of the shop keepers--one of them helped him get up the stairs of his apartment when he came home after his surgery. They always asked me how he was doing after his surgery. He made Brooklyn into a small town. Although his time was cut short, he had a rich, fulfilling life, and so many people who loved him.

The day after his death, I remembered that he had wanted to make me a music mix before he died, and I was feeling bereft that he hadn't been able to do it. But I checked my computer just in case, and there it was, a playlist called "For Alvina" and it was like he was giving me a hug and a message from the great beyond. The last two songs on the mix are "Shelter from the Storm" and "Across the Universe."

For those of you who have read this far, thank you for bearing with me. My mother is with me now, and I've been surrounded by friends, both virtually and in person. Greg and my dear friends Donna and Daniel were with me at the hospital when he died, and took care of me that night and the next day.

And just to leave this on a note of levity, albeit one that I'm finding profound right now, this is a silly email Greg sent me while I was at work and then out to dinner about a month ago. Venus is our one remaining cat (Serena also passed away from cancer about a year ago). Warning, there is cursing ahead!:
I'm very lonely.  Venus is also lonely.  The two of us are acting like our worlds have been destroyed.  

While we cuddled - more like held on to one another as the universe battered us - she said, "Dad?"

I said, "What is it, sweetie?"

"I miss Alvina."

I said, "I do to, Venus.  I miss her too."

She asked, "Is it always going to be like this?  Is it always going to hurt this much?"

I explained to her that it will always hurt but that we will get better at dealing with it.  Eventually the wound will heal and a scar will grow in its place, making us stronger.

She said, "What?"

"Ugh," I said.  "Right now we hurt because the wound is so new.  As time passes the wound will close and a scar will form." 

She replied, "What are you talking about?  I don't have any open wounds.  I said I miss Alvina."

"It's a metaphor," I said.  "We are wounded EMOTIONALLY.  We will develop EMOTIONAL scars."

She said, "I have no idea what a metaphor is.  A metaphor?  What the fuck is a metaphor!  I'm a fucking cat.  Stop treating me like a human being, because I'm not a human being.  Also, STOP TOUCHING ME!"  

Then she swatted at me and jumped off the bed and ran into the other room.

Venus and I both miss Greg. I wait for the wound to close and the scars to form.

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5. Happy Christmas

Bookman and I don’t celebrate Christmas but I know many of you do so I wanted to wish you a happy Christmas.

And in the spirit of the season and my new-found obsession with cycling, enjoy this festive little tune:


Filed under: biking, Personal

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6. Winter Solstice

Solstice dinner

Solstice dinner

Wow, am I tired. Cooking Solstice dinner has done me in. I actually started cooking yesterday afternoon. Then spent all day today in the kitchen cooking too. At four with two pots on the stove and a pan in the oven I just couldn’t face making one more dish. I had ceased having fun hours ago, was tired and hungry and the vindaloo vegetables still before me. Bookman said, forget about ‘em! But — said I. No, said Bookman, we’ll make them later in the week, after all it’s not like there isn’t enough to eat already. Disappointed yet relieved at the same time, I acquiesced. The final dishes finished cooking, the dishes made earlier heated up, the table was set, the candle lit, the sparkling apple cider poured, and with The Four Seasons by Vivaldi playing, Bookman and I finally sat down to eat.

As soon as I began to eat I started to revive. Oh, that is good. This came out good too. I like this. Nom nom nom. I’m not sure I can say a day and a half of cooking was worth it. I can say I was absolutely bonkers to decide to make so many different dishes none of which I have ever made before. However, they all came out tasty and there is enough leftovers for quite some time.

I couldn’t have done it without Bookman’s help. Halfway through the Day of Endless Chopping, my hand

Pretty but so much chopping

Pretty but so much chopping

began aching and I could feel the tendonitis in my wrist thinking of flaring up. After that, all chopping was performed by Bookman. He didn’t mind. He had been hanging out on the fringes of the kitchen all day offering unsolicited “helpful” advice. I was, after all, in his domain. Early in the day he proffered the observation, you are very… deliberate. Um, thanks?

The entire meal came from Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen, a fantastic cookbook that will be getting a lot of use. Here are the various dishes:

  • Aloo bonda – mashed potato fritters
  • Tamarind date chutney
  • Chana masala – chickpea curry (my favorite dish of what I made)
  • Tofu pasanda – tofu in velvety pepita poppy seed sauce
  • Vegetable Manchurian – veggie balls in Manchurian sauce (this was Bookman’s favorite of all the dishes)
  • White basmati rice
  • Puffy restaurant-style naan (these came out perfect!)

For dessert we had nariyal ladoo – fudgy coconut balls. These tasted really good, coconut cream and shredded coconut flavored with sugar and ground cardamom seeds. I don’t think I have ever had cardamom before. Grinding the seeds in the mortar was a sensory delight. They have a lovely citrusy scent (and flavor) that is also kind of earthy. The coconut balls themselves weren’t quite of a fudgy consistency. We don’t have a thermometer so we guessed on the cooking time and temperature and they came out a bit too thick and crumbly. But their enjoyment did not rely on a fudge-like texture. With a cup of coffee, these were delicious.

While we were eating dinner and I was shoveling chickpea curry into my mouth I commented to Bookman, I can’t wait to have this for dinner tomorrow night! He gave me a funny look and then started laughing. Do you realize what you just said? he asked? And then I started laughing too.

Now the table is cleared, the dishes washed, and the kitchen cleaned. We are sitting with full bellies, droopy eyelids and happy smiles on our faces. A perfect day.

Happy Solstice Everyone!


Filed under: Food, Personal Tagged: Winter Solstice

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7. Some thoughts on climate change

Can anyone tell me if there is still a sun? I haven’t seen it in a couple weeks and I am worried it may have gotten lost somewhere. The skies have been covered with clouds and we’ve had rain. Rain! In December! This is Minnesota, that rain is supposed to be snow. I think the kale in the garden has actually begun growing again. Some of my neighbors’ yards have green grass. The public radio meteorologist says December temperatures are running 10 degrees above normal.

I heard an interview with Ted Cruz on the same radio station the other day. Cruz is a Republican senator from Texas and one of many presidential candidates. He is currently the chair of the Senate subcommittee on Science and Space. In the interview he said, and I am paraphrasing, that climate change is not a threat, that it is something made up by the liberals who want to increase the size of government, increase taxes and create laws that control how we live our lives. I could say so much about how Cruz and his cronies are passing laws that tell women what we are and are not allowed to do with our bodies, but I will just let that go for now.

So it is a good thing that Cruz and other republicans can do absolutely nothing about the Climate Change agreement agreed upon in France. It is far from a perfect agreement and nothing in it will keep global temperatures below 2C, the magic number scientists have singled out as being the point of no return, so to speak. But it is better than nothing. And because it is not a treaty, the U.S. government does not have to vote on it. Unfortunately, they can still make it difficult for the US to achieve a good many of the things we promised to do by not funding budget items.

With the presidential election in November 2016 and a number of seats in the House and Senate up for election, things are going to be interesting as the balance of power is sure to do some shifting. You can probably guess without too much trouble where I hope it shifts to.

Meanwhile I will try to stay positive and do things to keep my stress level and blood pressure low. Like ride my bike trainer. I did 85 miles/ 137 km yesterday! I was tired enough afterwards that I couldn’t have been stressed even if I had tried. Then there is my impending two-week vacation that begins this coming Friday at 4:00 p.m. Bring it on!

Even though the 70,000 people who live on the Marshall Islands are currently planning to move to higher ground in the Fiji Islands because the sea level is rising, I will remember that anything I can do personally to limit my carbon footprint is a positive thing.

Sometimes it feels like being vegan, taking public transit, consuming less, growing some of my own food is pointless because so small in the scheme of things. But it isn’t. Yes, the government needs to make some big changes, but we as individuals don’t need to wait for the government in order to start making changes ourselves. If everyone had two days a week without meat, or didn’t drive their own car a couple days a week, or stopped buying out of season fruits and vegetables, or washed their clothes in cold water, these small things would add up fast. It’s like this really great article says, a single action is like plucking one hair from someone’s head but if you get 1,000 people to each pluck a hair, that someone is going to end up bald.

The Paris climate agreement is a huge step in the right direction, but don’t wait for governments to begin implementing policies. We can start right now in our daily lives. It isn’t hard, it doesn’t take much, and it really does make a difference.


Filed under: Books, Personal Tagged: climate change

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8. Whirlwind Weekend

It turned out to be one of those crazy busy weekends when you go from one thing to another with hardly any break in between. From a restless sleep because of restless cats, Saturday morning went from a hearty oatmeal breakfast to the bike trainer where I spent a little over four hours riding 80 miles/129 km. Yes, yes I was tired afterwards. And hungry. Did some cool down stretching then had lunch then spent time looking at my new thesaurus (more on that tomorrow), then did some other stuff that is kind of blurry because I was getting sleepy. So I had some coffee and a scone. Then I tried reading a little but my eyes were still getting droopy and may have closed once or twice. And before I knew it, Bookman was home from work and I think we might have watched a TV show on the computer after dinner and then crawled into bed and read.

Today there were chores and errands and writing holiday cards and playing with red wiggler worms in the worm bin and helping Bookman do organizing things in the kitchen. The day flew by! I was going to spend some time writing about climate change stuff to post about today but here it is after dinner and I have other things to get done before calling it a day.

A whirlwind of a weekend! I am glad these don’t happen very often I don’t think my sanity would stay around long without some time to do not much of anything.

Oh, and in case you are wondering about that essay site I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am working on it and hope to launch it in January, a New Year’s endeavor. So if you have an essay or are thinking of writing one and are interested in sharing on the essay site, perhaps the holidays will afford you some time to write or provide some great essay material.

I hope you all had a good weekend!


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9. Notes on a Holiday Weekend

Ah, what a lovely long holiday weekend it has been! Thanksgiving on Thursday was decadent and delicious. Bookman started the day off by making us a pancake breakfast. These weren’t just any pancakes though. No sirree. These pancakes are actually supposed to be waffles but they stick to our waffle iron so badly they have become pancakes. Brownie pancakes. Walnuts and chocolate and drizzled with a cashew cream. My blood sugar is generally pretty low in the morning and let me tell you, these things pumped it up pretty darn fast! Combined with some very strong coffee, they kept us going into the middle of the afternoon when we decided it was time to have pumpkin pie.

As you can tell, we live by the motto, “dessert first” at our house.

The enchiladas at dinner were delicious as always and provided two days of leftovers. Normal eating will now resume until Winter Solstice.

To compensate for all the food, I rode 75 miles/121 km on my bike trainer on Saturday and burned close to 1800 calories. It was a fun ride. There were a lot of people riding in Zwift that day because there were several group rides going on for charity that were being led by professional cyclists. I don’t really follow professional cycling but even I recognized some of the names. I did not join any rides but I did occasionally get caught up in a group especially on the uphill sections of the course where everyone slows down and the pack gets strung out along the virtual mountain.

Also, note to self, just because Astrid is on a trainer doesn’t mean I don’t have to regularly check the tire pressure. My cadence and trainer feed kept skipping off and on and I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. The computer was working and all the tech seemed fine. Then Bookman noticed my back tire that sits against the trainer wheel thingy was looking a little flat. He set the trainer tighter against the wheel and problem solved. Today I got out the pump to discover I had only about 70 psi in the tire and there is supposed to be 120 psi! Oops.

Thursday it snowed all day. We only got about an inch/2.5 cm but it is amazing how just that little bit of snow has changed the landscape so much. October weather lasted far into November and really, we only had about a week of November blah. November here is usually a cold, gray month. Everything has been killed by frost, all the leaves have dropped and it is drab and dull. But the leaves hung on through the first part of the month and I still had a few flowers and plants in the garden until a little over a week ago. And now we have snow. We will be getting more snow tomorrow, enough that we will have to shovel. Time to get out the winter coat and find my snowboots.

As the snow fell outside I was inside reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It just so happens the chapter was called “Winter.” I had an extra happy moment of recognition when I read this:

I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out. At night I read and write, and things I have never understood become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting.

When the weather is warm spring and summer and fall I am outdoors doing, doing, doing. There is not much time to stop and think because those flowers need to be staked, the beans need to be picked, The rose needs to be deadheaded and everything needs to be weeded. There is laundry on the line and long bike rides to far away parks and lakes, and even when I do stop and look and be still it is a very active sort of stillness. Now, indoors with snow on the ground, there isn’t as much to do and time feels thick and sticky like molasses and things get done when they get done. There is much more staring off into space and gazing out of windows giving thoughts plenty of room to cavort.

During one of my window gazings the other day I spied a big fat squirrel. This squirrel was so big and fat that I did not immediately recognize it as being a squirrel. My eyes landed on it and I thought, there is a woodchuck in the yard, how strange. And I blinked and the woodchuck became a squirrel. The fattest squirrel I have ever seen. It is well provisioned for the winter!

Waldo and Dickens are wearing their winter fur now too. They were both so very happy these last few days. I got out a quilt and put it on my reading chaise and spent many hours reading. There is just enough room for the three of use to curl up together. And when I get stiff from sitting and need to get up, Waldo glares at me in such a way that I am glad he is a small housecat. He is so good at these threatening looks that I think he may be a reincarnated gangster who regularly sighs, what fresh hell is this? All three of us will be very sad when I have to go back to work on Monday morning.

However, there is a long vacation ahead. Three weeks and then I get a two-week vacation. I have no travel plans. It is the busiest time of year at work for Bookman. I will be left mostly to my own devices. Quilt, chaise, cats, a big pile of books. I can hardly wait!


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10. Happy Thanksgiving!

pumpkin pie

pumpkin pie

We will be celebrating Thanksgiving at my house tomorrow. It will just be Bookman and me. Since we’ve been vegan for over twenty years, we have created our own traditional Thanksgiving feast that does not center around turkey and stuffing and gravy. We make vegan enchiladas filled with tofu and vegetables and vegan cheese that we make from almond butter and other ingredients. On the side is brown rice and beans and tortilla chips.

We used to make these enchiladas several times a year but as they became our Thanksgiving feast we gradually stopped eating them at other times. Now it is a rarity to make them except at Thanksgiving. Because of this they have become something extra-special and we both start talking about them in anticipation as soon as the calendar turns to November.

We also have homemade pumpkin pie. The pumpkin was grown in our garden, adding an extra layer of satisfaction. Pumpkin pie is my most favoritest kind of pie. We used to buy graham cracker crusts but a few yeas ago Bookman learned how to make his own traditional pie crust and elevated our pie to even higher deliciousness.

While Thanksgiving is a great day for food, what makes it most special is sharing it with Bookman. Because it is just the two of us, it is a quiet, leisurely day. I keep him company while he is in the kitchen, read him poetry or silly magazine articles or just chat about this and that. It is one of the few days in the entire year that we give ourselves permission to not worry about chores or projects or errands, things that need to be done. Time is so often short and attention divided, to be able to give these things to the person I love most and also receive them in return fills my heart with joy and gratitude. That’s what Thanksgiving is about to me. It reminds me of how blessed I am and how much I truly have to be thankful for.

Allow me to spill some thankfulness on all of you. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, thanks for adding to my reading piles and lists, thanks for making this little part of the internet a fun and happy place, and thanks for your friendship and always being such kind and generous people. Whether or not you are celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, I hope your day is filled with love and gratitude and joy.


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11. Just Trying to Be Part of the Herd

I had a flu shot on Tuesday.

This is a big deal because I have been resisting for years. I haven’t had the flu for well over a decade so why get a vaccine? I wasn’t willing to play along because I do have a small fear of needles and my only other experience with vaccines as an adult has been with the tetanus vaccine and through the years I have had an increasingly bad reaction to it. So why risk the unknown factor of a flu vaccine?

But after reading On Immunity by Eula Biss earlier this year it dawned on me that I probably haven’t gotten the flu because everyone else I know gets vaccinated, thus providing me with protection from the herd so to speak. Suddenly it didn’t seem fair that I was relying on everyone else to protect me because of ungrounded personal fears. Plus, I am not anti-vaccination and do not want to be lumped in with the people who are.

Tuesday the university had a flu shot clinic. I got a shot and everything was fine. My arm didn’t even hurt! And I felt good that I was part of the herd creating immunity and helping protect people who really can’t have flu shots for legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately my euphoria over doing a good deed did not last. In less that 24-hours I had swollen lymph glands in my neck and under my arm, a runny nose, swollen sinuses, a general feeling of fatigue and tiredness and the injection site is sore to the touch. At first I put down the runny nose and sinuses to seasonal allergies, which, as you know, I am having a hard time with at the moment. But after pretty much staying indoors all day yesterday and keeping the windows at home closed, my runny nose and sinuses are no better. Also, the injection site hurts even more and the lymph glands that were only a little swollen yesterday are even bigger today with the one under my arm about the size of a walnut. I feel run down and beat up and fuzzy headed.

Apparently I am one of the lucky few who get to have flu shot side effects! As terrible as I feel, it is not, apparently, considered a severe or allergic reaction, just not common. Supposedly I should start to feel better in a few days. I told Bookman this morning that it does not make me want to do the right thing and get a flu shot again next year. Bookman said that feeling mildly to moderately crappy for a few days was better than having the flu. Of course he is right. But my brain goes back to the fact that I have not had the flu in 10+ years and taking my chances seems better than voluntarily feeling ill after a flu shot every year.

This could all be my fatigue and fuzzy headedness talking.

On a side note, The University of Iowa, home of the famous writing program, is offering a free MOOC that starts today How Writers Write Fiction. Out of curiosity, I have signed up. I indicated I am auditing the class and will not be turning in assignments. There are over 2,000 people signed up for it as of yesterday and I find it hard to imagine that if I had wanted to complete the assignments that the online workshopping process could be remotely useful. I’ve taken in-person writing classes with mixed groups before and found them not very helpful at all and those were only 15-20 people. If you sign up for it and opt to do the assignments, I’d be really curious to know how it worked for you!


Filed under: Personal Tagged: Eula Biss, On Immunity

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12. Miss Me?

Hello! I’ve been away. Did anyone notice? What have I been away doing? Well, first, Thursday last week was Bookman’s birthday. He turned forty-eleven, something worth celebrating, eh? So we did. We went out to breakfast at our favorite breakfast place and I baked him a cake. Per Bookman’s request, the cake was chocolate chocolate chip with peanut butter cream frosting. I am not the cook of the house but that does not mean I don’t know how to cook, and I made a freaking awesome cake if I do say so myself. We had a meandering kind of quiet day with a little of this and a little of that. Some of that included packing because Friday morning we flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Bookman’s brother lives there and his niece got married on Saturday. We were very happy we could make it for the wedding. Bookman and I don’t often get to travel anywhere together, our slow times at work don’t exactly coincide and we both work places with a small staff which requires a whole other level of scheduling consideration. We knew about the wedding though since last winter and were able to make sure everything coordinated.

A friend of ours stopped by and took care of Waldo and Dickens. We travel so little, and, as I said, rarely together, that we had never left the cats alone like this before and they are 8-years-old! They survived just fine though. They were a bit mad at us when we got home last night, did the “I’m going to sniff you but you are not allowed to touch me” bit. Waldo is also an expert at making big sad eyes so he mooned around the house trying to look as wounded as possible to elicit sympathy and then not let us touch him. Ah, the cats, they know how to make their people feel guilty. They soon got over being mad though, their desire for cuddles outweighing their resentment. When I woke up this morning I had Waldo snuggled up and purring on one side of me and Dickens snuggled up and purring on the other. Today they have been sticking to me like glue. Bookman and I left for an hour to go grocery shopping and upon our return they tried to play the “you’re causing us trauma” card but they dropped it pretty fast when they realized we weren’t buying it.

It was a good trip. A Beautiful wedding that even had vegan food! And it was great to catch up with Bookman’s family, many of whom I haven’t seen in a very long time. The flight to and from wasn’t completely terrible. The only snag was on our return yesterday. I opt for the pat down instead of going through those full-body x-ray machines. The TSA agent got a false-positive for explosives on her gloves after the pat down. So then she took everything out of my carry-on bag that had just gone through being x-rayed and had passed and tested it all for evidence of explosives. In the bag was a sealed, just bought container of hummus and some pita bread that was going to be my and Bookman’s lunch. Well, apparently hummus is considered a potential hazard and even though the luggage screener had let it through, the TSA agent emptying my bag refused to. When I told her it was sealed and it was my lunch she told me I could go back out of the airport, eat it and then come back in. And go through all this again? My flight leaves in an hour! She was not sympathetic and tossed my hummus in the trash. I suspect after I left she fished it out and had it for her own lunch.

After going through my bag and finding no explosives, the TSA agent took me to a private room and gave me another pat down. I’m not sure why I needed a private room for this because the pat down was exactly the same as before only she used the palm of her hand down the inside of my legs rather than the back of her hand. Bookman gives them the benefit of the doubt and says they are offering privacy, but I suspect it is meant to be intimidating. Of course on the second go-round everything was fine. Except it wasn’t because Bookman and I no longer had any lunch.

Albuquerque airport does not have an abundance of restaurants like the one in Minneapolis does. There was no decent food to be found so we ended up having a big plate of overly priced, greasy french fries for lunch. I have not had french fries in quite a few years and this “lunch” had the curious effect of feeling both like a naughty treat and disgusting at the same time. But between that, some almonds the TSA agent did not deem a threat, and a tiny bag or airplane peanuts, we made it back to Minneapolis a little hungry but not starving.

There wasn’t much time for reading during our stay in Albuquerque but of course I had plenty of reading material! I had my Kobo with several books on it, my iPad with magazines, and I finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir on the airplane yesterday.

It’s nice to be home, sleeping in my own bed that doesn’t sag in the middle, not having to breathe dry desert air and dry, overly air conditioned air, having my garden-gone-wild and being surrounded by brilliant greens instead of the dusky desert colors, which are pretty but don’t exactly satisfy me.

Oh, one last thing! Thursday last week while weeding in the garden around some milkweed and feeling a bit sad about not hosting any monarchs this year, I came upon a big fat monarch caterpillar! It was huge and I suspect, close to being ready to spin a cocoon. I will have to keep my eyes out for it!

Back to work for me tomorrow and back to a regular schedule. Breaking up your routine is good to do now and then, but it is also nice to get back to one as well.


Filed under: Personal

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13. This Space of Writing

Well, I've waited around a long time for this, and I couldn't be more thrilled... Zero Books have announced the forthcoming publication of my wonderfully talented friend Stephen Mitchelmore's This Space of Writing:

What does 'literature' mean in our time? While names like Proust, Kafka and Woolf still stand for something, what that something actually is has become obscured by the claims of commerce and journalism. Perhaps a new form of attention is required. Stephen Mitchelmore began writing online in 1996 and became Britain's first book blogger soon after, developing the form so that it can respond in kind to the singular space opened by writing. Across 44 essays, he discusses among many others the novels of Richard Ford, Jeanette Winterson and Karl Ove Knausgaard, the significance for modern writers of cave paintings and the moai of Easter Island, and the enduring fallacy of 'Reality Hunger', all the while maintaining a focus on the strange nature of literary space. By listening to the echoes and resonances of writing, this book enables a unique encounter with literature that many critics habitually ignore. With an introduction by the acclaimed novelist Lars Iyer, This Space of Writing offers a renewed appreciation of the mystery and promise of writing.

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14. Ten

Today, July 14th 2015, marks the tenth anniversary of this blog's creation. Just writing that down amazes me.  This is where I'm supposed to say that when I started this blog I had no idea that I'd still be keeping it up a decade later, but the truth is that Asking the Wrong Questions's longevity, in itself, doesn't surprise me.  I started this blog because I had things to say and nowhere to say

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15. Wakeful sleeping

Those of you who notice these things will have noticed that ReadySteadyBook has been very quiet for a very long time now. Recently, Stephen Mitchelmore wrote: "The main reason I still write this blog is to maintain a contact with the need or condition that drove me to read and write in the first place; a need often misdirected in pursuit of what the industry is talking about. Long silences here report stout resistance to the temptations of disinterested reception. But what is this need?"

My "resistance" is fully compromised, as I work in the industry to which Steve refers; my "long silences" report only that I'm busy elsewhere (currently at Foyles) doing my best to champion the kind of books I first started writing about here thirteen or so years ago. I'm loath to close RSB down, however, as I'm sure I'll soon have the time and energy to report again on what really matters. That horizon keeps receding, but those books that feel vital, axes for the frozen sea inside, remain the reason to maintain this space, and will be the only reason to return back to it.

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16. Life is a roller coaster! Personal post

NOTE: This post is political and personal.  It is not about books, or storytelling, or crafts.   It IS about change and my thoughts on all the change that is going on right now in the Untied States.

A week and a half ago, a young man sat with a Bible study group for an hour and then killed nine of the members.  He chose this group on purpose.  He had a plan.  Suddenly, the hatred, obstinacy, and irrational craziness that many Americans subscribed to since an African American became president was exposed for what it was.  Racism.  Bigotry.  Cruelty.  Evil.  Fear.

Since then:
1. The Confederate flag has been demonized - rightly so.  It should never have been flown on public land after the Civil War. (Private rights are another thing.)  It's just a piece of cloth, but it's significance in the war against equality is now clear.

2.  The Supreme Court has outlawed housing discrimination - again - upholding broad discrimination claims.

3.  The Supreme Court made marriage among all people - same sex, two sexes - a law in 50 states.  This means people everywhere in the United States have the right to not be lonely anymore regardless of whom they love.

4. Our president delivered the speech of his lifetime when he delivered the eulogy for Clementa Pinckney - a speech that showed his intelligence, his confidence, his empathy, and his faith.

People were shocked into their senses again.  Politicians had to admit that their party loyalty just might be counterproductive, if not downright anti-American. 

The battle to be a better country is not over.  Hate crimes are still being committed.  The Equal Rights Act needs to come to fruition.  But, my dwindling hope has rebounded.  There are good people here - on both sides of the aisle.

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17. Library Books and Chickens and Biking Oh My

I haven’t added any books to my library hold list in a month and a half but that has not kept the holds I had already placed from arriving. And, of course, as these things happen, they arrive in bunches. So now I am frantically reading On Immunity by Eula Biss. It is very good. And then I have to try and read Geek Sublime by Vikrma Chandra. I do not get to renew either of these because there are others waiting their turn for them. Well, only two books with hard deadlines but it seems like a lot for some reason. Probably because I have Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie that I am desperate to start reading. And that book at work that went AWOL — This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein — it finally found me! So I have that to read. Thankfully since it is from the university library I have it for a couple months instead of a couple weeks so I don’t have to rush through it which is good because damn, is it depressing and I can only take in small bites.

Also in the pile from the library are several chicken books. Yup, I am slowly wearing Bookman down when it comes to us having chickens. The urban farm supply store is offering another backyard chicken class on February 28th and I have signed up for it. I know I was going to wait until next year to take the class, but I decided sooner is better than later. The class will explain how to get the required city permits, the coop requirements, chicken care, the whole nine yards. After the class I will know for sure whether or not we will do the chicken thing. And if the answer is yes then over the summer I will enlist Bookman into preparing for chickens this time next year. This will be a bigger project than just chickens that will involve tearing down our crumbling detached garage so it will definitely be interesting.

Goodness, no wonder I’m feeling pressed for time books and chickens and garden planning. But also biking, indoors at the moment, taking up time. I think I’ve mentioned a couple of years now in September about Bookman and I doing a thirty-mile ride in the St Paul Bike Classic. Well, I decided I liked it so much that I want to go for longer rides. I’m ultimately aiming for a century — 100 miles. This year the goal is a half-century ride in Mankato in October. One of the rest stops has pie which makes it all worth it right there. So five nights a week I ride for an hour and Saturday afternoons I started doing a fast as I can 90 minutes. I managed 34.7 miles during my 90 minutes yesterday on a programmed course with hills. I think that’s good but I’m not sure since I have no one else to compare to. One thing I do know, thirty miles is now really easy and I look forward to getting outdoors and trying a long ride on the road on a new bike which I have not bought yet but will very likely go hunting for next weekend.

I’ve always enjoyed biking but I never expected to catch the biking bug. I think what did it was my first ever group ride this last October. It was a really short ride and at times unbearably slow, but I had a blast riding with other people. I’ll be joining a local bike club this spring, I have several to choose from so will be going on some test rides too see which group I like best.

So busy, busy around here. But it’s all good stuff. Now, if only it would warm up. It’s been below zero (-18C) the last several mornings and I am ready to be done with winter.


Filed under: Books, gardening, Personal

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18. Not so Bookish

This has not been the bookish weekend I had hoped it would be. Well, there was some bookishness yesterday but it wasn’t the fun relaxing kind. I had to finish up reading a nonfiction book of comparative literature for a Library Journal review that is due by tomorrow. The book is called An Ecology of World Literature From Antiquity to the Present Day by Alexander Beecroft. It’s an interesting way to compare literatures but is entirely aimed at an academic audience so wasn’t exactly easy-going fun. Finishing it took far longer than I expected and left little time for more pleasurable reading. Then of course today I had to take the time to write the review. I only get 200 words, which is not so very easy to stick to when assessing an academic book. But I managed with about five words to spare. We’ll see what my editor thinks.

After yesterday was a wash on my own personal reading I thought I could indulge today but that didn’t happen either. The morning was given over to chores of various kinds and the afternoon got eaten up with switching to a new phone and mobile carrier. Bookman and I discovered recently that our mobile carrier was charging us for phone and unlimited texting as much as AT&T would charge us for iPhones with a small data plan. So we switched. I finally have a “smart” phone. Since I have an iPad and a Macbook they all sync up which is kind of convenient. Of course the switching has not gone as smoothly as it was supposed to. Getting our phone numbers switched over to the new phones from the old carrier is still a work in progress and we’ve been promised it will be completed within the hour. Fingers crossed. And of course I’ve had to transfer phone numbers from my old phone to the new and choose ringtones and set up my morning alarm clock and all the other stuff that an iPhone requires one to set up. But it will all be good, right? I won’t regret finally giving in and getting rid of my not-smart phone? That question mark tells you I am not entirely certain on the matter.

My ban on placing hold requests at the library is going pretty well. I have been really good at resisting, though it has not been without pangs from time to time. I did borrow a few cookbooks, however. Since these are not books one sits down to read for hours over the course of a few weeks, I decided it was allowed. They are all vegan cookbooks I have never heard of before. Of course I started with the dessert, Lickin’ the Beaters: low fat vegan desserts and Lickin’ the Beaters 2: vegan chocolate and candy. Recipes for chocolate donut holes and gingerbread chocolate cookies just seemed so much nicer to swoon over this weekend than recipes from North Africa and India. I’ll drool over those next weekend.

I’ve had so many book finishes lately I now find myself in the middle of a good many books and nowhere near the end of any of them. I am enjoying each one and don’t have that “I’m not getting anywhere” feeling I often get when I find myself in this kind of situation. The only thing this time around I’m having trouble with is coming up with post topics since I have nothing to review. I’ve managed so far but I don’t yet know what the week ahead holds. We’ll see. If posting is spotty you’ll know why!

On a side note, all those seeds I ordered last weekend got delivered on Friday. I didn’t even open the packages because well, snow-covered garden. It would just be too depressing to have to look at those colorful seed packets.

Enough pointless rambling for one day. Our phone numbers still haven’t transferred, there’s another what the heck is the problem phone call to be made.


Filed under: Books, Cookbooks, Personal

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19. My Worldcon Schedule

The Worldcon program was published today, and just from a quick glance I can already tell that I am going to be a) worn off my feet running from panel to panel, and b) overcome by agonizing choices between conflicting but equally awesome events.  I'm truly looking forward to this convention. My own excellent slate of panels is below.  In addition to these, I will be on hand at the Strange

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20. I Got Presents Too

Yesterday I was away celebrating Bookman’s birthday. He says he turned forty-ten. Sure, why not? We went out to breakfast at our favorite cafe, spent some time in the garden, went for a walk at the lake and went to a bookstore. I also made him a cake so chocolatey that it is a good thing we have been building up our chocolate tolerance for years otherwise we might have overdosed. Also, it is just as well that I don’t cook very often, especially when it comes to things like cake. As I was mixing up all the ingredients I was overcome with horror — how much sugar? How much butter? OMG, MORE sugar?!!! Of course when it came to eating cake I still had a piece, though maybe not as big as I would have had if I had been ignorant to the sugar and fat content. It’s a good thing Bookman has a birthday only once a year!

One of the things Bookman decided he wanted to do was go to a bookstore. So we did. We went to Half Price Books. It has been a really long time since we have been there and we had even vowed to never go back after some bad experiences there, but it is close to our house and we decided to check it out.

They must have had a sale recently because there were large gaping holes on their shelves where I would have expected books. And browsing, it seemed like there just wasn’t much of anything. However, I still managed to bring home three books.

  • Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag. Leslie Jamison mentions Sontag and this book in Empathy Exams and I have seen it crop up in other places. It seemed like it was about time to get a copy.
  • Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, the NYRB edition. I’ve heard good things about Taylor but I rarely see any of her books turn up at the secondhand shop so when I saw NYRB and Taylor together, I couldn’t pass it by.
  • Vita Nuova: A Novel by Bohumil Hrabal. I do love Hrabal and his books are hard to find in bookstores either new or secondhand. This one is the second in a trilogy of fictional memoirs but it seems I don’t have to read them in order. At least I don’t think I do. It is written from the perspective of his wife and depicts their life in Prague from the 1950s to 1970s.

Not bad, huh?

We also found Doctor Who salt and pepper shakers that we are attempting to repurpose. We are in the midst of a little setback on that project but hopefully we will be able to figure it out and I can make a happy reveal of it soon. In the mean time you will just have to imagine what one might use salt and pepper shakers for besides salt and pepper. Hmmmm.


Filed under: Books, New Acquisitions, Personal

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21. London and LonCon

Well, here I am, back from London and Loncon, with much to tell.  I combined my third foray to Worldcon (and my first as a Hugo nominee) with a family vacation, both of which were delightful if a little tiring--a classic "I need a vacation after this vacation" situation.  The experiences of both convention and city are already swirling in my head, so I'd better get them down while it's still

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22. All Change

It seems like only yesterday that I was announcing on this blog my new position as Strange Horizons reviews editor.  That day, however, was nearly four years ago, and in that time I've worked with incredible people and helped bring fantastic, thought-provoking, necessary criticism into the conversation about genre.  It's been a privilege, and an enormously rewarding experience (not least in the

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23. Traveling Bennies

One of the small pleasures I treat myself to is visiting the book stores of every town I visit in my travels if possible.  I figure I’m ‘working’, right?   I was able to visit two on the Outer Banks NC last weekend while visiting and saying goodbye to summer.

One is the sweetest tiny bookstore in Buxton NC…lower part of Outer Banks, very near the Hatteras Light House Point we love so much… good fishing normally and the best beaches! (skunked this year….)  Buxton book store2 (2)

and the second I revisited was the Corolla Light Bookstore in the northern part of the Outer Banks.  (Do visit the Sanderling Resort and Spa if ever near there!)

Corolla Light Book Store

They are so adorably old fashioned..and yet very modern and up to date too.  Just a pleasure all around and remind me how LUCKY I am to love reading as I do and have children’s books be my livelihood !  Work, Work, Work, …..


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24. Things I would like to do this year


I have plans for this year. Some are definite, some are hopeful. All have a slightly higher chance of being achieved if I make my intentions public and there’s  people who can shout at me if I don’t do them. Normal blogging service will resume next week. As for my goals for this year, here you are!

  • Blog  at least twice a week. I think this will have to be a case of “schedule things so you don’t get a full week of posts then radio silence” thing,  but you should start seeing regular content from now on
  • Be involved in at least two theatre projects. I know there are two theatre projects I’d like to be involved in because one  (Spring Awakening with the fabulous Renegade Theatre Company) is auditioning on Monday and the other is one I’ll be doing myself (see next point).
  • Do a Latin play! I have this all planned in my head. There’s a play called Menaechmi, which is like The Comedy of Errors but marginally simpler. I have the Latin text and an English translation. I need to edit it down so it’s shorter. We rehearse the play and produce as normal. We perform it, speaking Latin and having a PowerPoint in the background surtitling the English like an opera. This is ambitious, but it should work!
  • Do TEDx! I’m a confirmed speaker at my school’s TEDx Youth Conference, which came about because one of my friends is just brilliant and decided to hold one and so we’re having one. I’ll almost certainly be speaking about diversity in teen fiction, because that is what I somewhat know about. And there’s some bloggers who’ll be coming for a bloggers’ alley and an author will be speaking too(probably)! It’s exciting, it’s happening in July, and you can find more information on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Read at least 52 books and review them. Without letting them pile up.I'm setting targets low, because this will be a busy year. Hopefully I'll do more. But low targets to start with are good. 
  • Keep on top of emails.  Not just read them, say "I'll reply later" and look back a month later and think "Would it be awkward to reply now?"
  • Connect with bloggers even more. I’ll make buttons to find me elsewhere in the coming weeks, but connect on the blogs as well. I’m terrible at commenting, both because of time and because of lack of knowing what to say, but I’ll try. Also,  I should be going to the Fire Sermon Blogger event later on in the month, so anyone going should say hi. 
  • Survive the year without doing anything permanently stupid.
  • Sort out my sleep pattern. I try and get off screens by 10 and be asleep by 11, to wake up at 6.25, but it's not working to a ridiculous extent and it's messing with my life too much. Any tips would be appreciated!
  • Become somewhat healthier, both physically and mentally. 
  • Decide on a uni course! I think want to go into law. So do I do a law degree, or go  do classics and a conversion course after? Because classics would be awesome, and I love classics, but then that’s another year of my life in training and who knows what’ll happen to training fees? But then, coming out of a classics course, I have few more options if I decide not to do law. Choices!! Anyway, this decision WILL be made by October, because I’m applying for Oxford if I get the grades and early applications must be made by then and so yay UCAS?
  • Connect more with writers. I like the idea of maybe going into editing (writing’s hard. Improving it is something I’m much better at) and I’d be happy to help anyone with any writing that they want going.
  • Get good grades on my AS levels, but also not stress out over them excessively! French, Latin, Government and Politics, English Literature, and Critical Thinking. Exam time gets nearer and nearer and I do not feel prepared. Yay!
  • Have a good year! I know it won’t be all brilliant, but hopefully the good times will outweigh the bad ones. 
These aren't resolutions, because if they were, they would not happen. Just things I shall be attempting to do. Anyone who also has things they would like to do this year, I wish you success. Happy New Year, everyone! 

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25. Blog Awards + News

Hey! Things are kind of getting sorted in my life right now.

News! 
There's going to be a chat tomorrow (19 January) on twitter about  teenage mental health at 7pm GMT. The hashtag is #gdnbluemonday. Go join in.
Also, Tom Pollock wrote an incredibly brave and powerful post. Go read it. 
I'm really glad that mental health is something that's being talked about more. It might feature a bit more on this blog, I don't know yet. But, like many other things that we need to talk about, it is being talked about more, and maybe slowly society can do the same.

Happier news! I discovered Judd Books, and independent store in London, because I saw Stacey (The Pretty Books) and Jim (YaYeahYeah) by chance while trying to visit the Gothic exhibition in the British Library (I failed. Why did my teachers, who knew we'd be studying  Frankenstein all year, only tell us that it was on and it would be highly useful the week before it closed?)  Anyway, I got two non fiction books because non-ficion second hand books tend to be rarer so I got a book on the history behind the Trojan War and on LGBTQ rights in the Middle East.

Also, I'm thinking of attempting to do fortnightly vlogs. Would anyone be interested?



Main post time! I got nominated for two blog awards over the past few weeks- the Liebster award from Jo, who writes the Eclectic Feel Blog, and the Infinity Dreams award from Holly, who writes Holly Quills and Ivy. Thank you, guys!

From Eclectic Feel Blog. wordpress.com

  • Describe your blog in 3 words. So much work.
  • What’s your favourite smell and why? Rum and vanilla tea because good memories of times when it was there- see birthday party involving tea duelling
  • Name an unusual skill/talent you have.  Less a talent, more proof of my brain being a jumbled mess- randomly slipping correctly conjugated/declined Latin into French lessons or mostly incorrectly conjugated French into Latin
  • If you could only choose one – books, music, art, craft or photography? This is evil. Book s or music... books. Just. Evil.
  • Oranges or lemons? Organes.
  • Your top 3 ambitions for 2015? Sort out my physical health and mental health and sleep pattern. Get decent grades.  Not mess up too badly.
  • What was your last holiday destination and what’s (hopefully) your next? Edinburgh  (Fringe festival!!) and Spain (not sure where).
  • Trilby or fedora? Fedora
  • What was the last book you read/album you listened to (and rate it out of 10)? Last book completed- Love, Sex, and Tragedy- 7.75 out of 10. Last album listened to: Spring Awakening Original Cast- 7 out of 10
  • What’s your favourite cheese? Whatever it is that goes on dominoes pizza
  • Will you be rocking Pantone’s colour of the year “Marsala” in 2015? No, since I have no idea what it is.


From HollyQuillsand Ivy

Required 11 facts
  • I can’t stick to plans about what to read next
  • I love my Latin lessons excessively
  • I have illustrated my Latin workbooks with daleks, corsets, and a graphic body count of Titus Andronicus
  • Underneath my bed is a lot of food
  • Current teas on the go: Russian Morning Kusmi 24, and Lapsang Souchong.
  • I can’t drink lapsang souchong at night or the caffeine keeps me awake
  • I have no idea where I want to start writing my TEDx talk
  • My to-review box is overflowing badly
  • I keep random bits and bobs in pretty teacups
  • Miscast cabaret/backwards broadway nights on youtube make my life complete
  • I really want to become fluent in at least two more languages.

And questions...  

  • In your opinion, what book has the most beautiful cover ? Current favourite, liable to change: This Book is Gay just because its cover fits it perfectly.
  • What is your favourite song? Another current favourite , liable to change, is Touch Me from Spring Awakening.
  • Why did you start blogging? Stephanie said she did it and she loved it. I decided to go.
  • Would you rather be in The Hunger Games arena or in a zombie apocalypse? Zombie apocalypse
  • If you travel anywhere where would you like to go? A tour of all the capital cities.
  • What celebrity would you fangirl over most? Hmm...... there’s many..... I have love for Haylee Atwell, Kat Dennings, Colbie Smoulders, Scarlett Johanson.... all the ladies of Marvel really... and Sebastian Stan.... and James Dawson.... and Kim Curran... and Patrick Ness.... and Tom Pollock.... and Laura Lam... and Rainbow Rowell.... I don’t know!
  • What is one skill you wish you had? Apart from languages, consistently decent violin skills.
  • Narnia or Neverland? Neverland
  • Is there one film you can quote word for word? Repo! The Genetic Opera. And the play version of Rent (not a film, but I can do that as well)
  • What was your worst read of 2014?  I can’t think of an absolute worst, but I couldn't deal with Game of Thrones.
  • What was your best read of 2014? Probably A Kiss in the Dark.

OK, I’m sorry I don’t have time to nominate people or write questions, because I can’t deal with going and seeing who’s won it already and such right now and my interview conducting skills are zero,  but if anyone wants to  tell us a bit about themselves, please do! 

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