Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eudora's Owl: Thoughts on being an artist

So, I've been thinking a lot about creativity.  I had an art teacher when I was in eighth grade who told me that if I ever hoped to be an artist, she hoped I married well, because otherwise, I'd starve. I believed her. After all she was an adult, and an artist, and my teacher. Surely she knew what she was talking about.

For years, I puttered about creating jewelry, crocheting, embroidering, messing with polymer clay or beads, but never thought of myself as an artist.  Even when I began writing pysanky, I still thought of myself as a dabbler.  It wasn't until I started donating things I made to charity for silent auctions that I began to think maybe my eighth grade teacher might have had her head up her bum when she gave her advice -- and this was only because I began to see my creations offered and listed as art, not as jewelry or crafts, or junk. People began asking for pysanky for special occasions, or commissioning them (which I would do for a donation to one of the charities I support, rather than for my own profit.) Then several of my pysanky were accepted by the Ukrainian Art Museum for their collection, and I had to rethink my self-definition.

Lately, I'm trying new mediums with my pysanky skills.  I'd written a number of bags and satchels, even an ice chest, with rave reviews, and thought maybe I can apply the pysanky symbols in other ways. So, I've been playing with colored pencils, paints, and markers, and having a wonderful time.

Today, this little owl was born. It's destined for Eudora, the youngest daughter of some dear friends. One of her first words was "owl" and she loves the birds.  Hope she likes it. I had fun bringing it to being. And see that egg in the basket below?  The one at the 6:00 position? that's the one I've saved for my eighth grade art teacher, just to prove that once I stopped listening to her wretched advice, I found my art.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Satisfaction Supreme: I Made it Myself

Every person who likes to fiddle with things to make other things has met that magpie genie who looks at bits and bobs and tries to figure out how to puzzle the pieces into something else -- something fun, clever, and, dare I say, shiny. (That genie is second cousin to the one that looks at something handcrafted and says, "Oooh! I think I can do that!".)

In my family, I'm famous for "making stuff". I think there's a mixture of tolerance and pride with much of my creations.  The tolerance definitely comes into play with the boxes of supplies that load shelves and closets, fighting books and yarn for valuable real estate in our home. In fact, there's the story of one Christmas, early in our marriage, when my stepdaughter came to visit. I had planned an orgy of crafts and Christmas cookie baking, all excited to have a little girl to share this with. She was maybe all of three years old, and was more interested in Care Bears then making a popcorn string for the tree. I kept trying.  Maybe we could make angels with cotton and construction paper, or gingerbread cookies, or, or, or... Finally, my world weary stepdaughter looked at her dad, who had just come home from work, then looked at her lunatic stepmom, sitting on the floor, happily cutting and pasting sparkly bits onto glittery objects. In a voice that to my memory sounds like a three-year old version of Marlene Dietrich, she uttered, "Is she always like this?".  Now, nearly 30 years later, javaczuk still shakes his head, and patiently says, "Yes."

In November, I had carefully cleaned squash and pumpkins,saving the seeds to roast for a special taste treat. Unfortunately, for some weird reason, these particular seeds had proved to be unusually tasteless. Unwilling to throw them away, I stored them for some future use that didn't involve eating. Something would come to me, as sure as the sun and springtime would come after a bleary winter.

A few weeks back, I stumbled upon the carefully cleaned, tasteless seeds. And I remembered something I'd seen in a display of handcrafted goods. Something that had made me say, "Hey! I can do that!"

And so I did. I started them up in the cabin when I was up there earlier this week, and put the finishing touches on today. I looked at them and smiled, then thought, "Phew! I never have to do that again!"

Monday, July 23, 2012

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I have a friend, whether she's Beth to my Jennifer, Jennifer to my Beth, I don't really know, but were someone to tap into our internet correspondences, (because yes, some of what we wrote would trigger the stupid internet filter at the company where these two worked), I'm pretty sure they'd fall in love with my friend, and like me a lot, too. Just like Lincoln and I did with Beth and Jennifer.

Rainbow Rowell's debut novel actually gives the reader real characters that you want to have as friends (or sweethearts, if you're in the market.) My IT guy was a largish woman who stank of both her political views and the vague odor of cigarettes and Irish Spring soap. It was enough to drive me to become enough of a geek girl to handle office computer problems so there wasn't a lingering stench in the office after an IT visit. Rowell's lead character, Lincoln, (yeah, that's right. The lead in a sort of chick lit with a brain novel is the guy) is thoughtful, decent (well there's the whole reading the email thing, but it starts as part of his job description),and just seems to be a nice guy. Rumor has it he's cute in a sort of wholesome, real life way.  The other two main characters, who we meet mainly through their emails, are bright, funny, caring women with real-life sounding problems.  Friends who help each other out, provide sounding boards for ideas and shoulders for tears.  Who are there when you need them and even if you don't. People you want to know and have in your life.

Brava to Rainbow Rowell (and given that her first name is Rainbow, the  discussion about what to name a child should be read in a whole different light.  I have friends who felt that whatever you named your child should be able to pass the window test:  You could lean out the window and shout for the name without sounding like trailer trash, or that you were calling your pet.)

I found this to be the sort of book that read quickly, brought smiles, but also touched on some serious issues.  The characters were endearing.  The trip back to 1999 with them was delightful.  I look forward to reading more from this author.  I almost wish she'd had access to the email conversations with my friend. We're fabulous!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bird brain: or how I spent my day

I've been home pretty much all week, getting progressively less sick. While it's given me a lot of time to read (once I felt well enough to do so), I've had little energy to do much else.  But I think may be on the mend, as today I tackled a project that has been simmering in my brain for about a month.  I've had all the supplies, but not the time. Today provided that time, in five to ten minute segment, interspersed with copious quantities of rest. Crafting is tough work! (The little white dot on the perch has a flower on it. And no worries-- the smudge on the flower in the last picture has been fixed.)

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (and some truisms in life)

I have discovered these truisms about life and myself:

1) I want to meet a Fuzzy.
2) John Scalzi has written far to few books for my satisfaction and needs to write more.
3) Wil Wheaton reads the audio version of this book. I did not have the audio version. A splendid solution is for Mr Wheaton to come to my home and read the book to us here (after all, he's here on a regular basis via his blog and other assorted internet and television appearances.) (And I'd like to meet John Scalzi, too. I'll even bring bacon.)
4.) I laughed out loud a lot while reading this book, which is something, apparently, I think I do a lot, but, given the odd looks javaczuk sent my way, I probably do more in my head than actually out loud. If Carl Hiaasen and John Scalzi ever team up, I'm screwed.
5.) H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy is on my wish list now.

 Thank you Tor Books for plucking this from my wishlist and sending it my way.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sailor Twain: : Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel

A few months back I was perusing Tor's fall 2012 offerings and the blurb on a graphic novel coming out through an imprint called First Second Books:  
One hundred years ago, on the foggy Hudson River,a riverboat captain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the busiest port in the United States. A wildly popular—and notoriously reclusive—author makes a public debut. A French nobleman seeks a remedy for a curse. As three lives twine together in an unexpected collision, the mystery of the Mermaid of the Hudson deepens...
That the author/illustrator was both the Editorial Director of First Second and had award-winning books in his repertoire only added to my interest.

A copy of the book arrived here yesterday.  I read it in one day, though the book has more depth than most graphic novels do. That depth is in both the story and the luminous quality of much of the graphics that carry the tale.  There were some remarkable moments, in both story and art, between the covers of this book.  The drawings are not in color, which in this case is a good thing.  It helps keep the art clear, avoiding a muddy nature which can come into some graphic novels. In fact, in this book, the black-white-gray almost charcoal feel of some of the panels helps create an ethereal quality to some parts of the story that slip more into the realm of fantasy and eroticism than fiction. I also really enjoyed the maps and article bits that made up the chapter pages. Plus there were some great humorous touches, and a lot of interesting tidbits for the curious reader to investigate further.

One more thing which I really liked about this book was that the publishers chose to make this book hardcover, which gave it a different feel in the hand when reading -- sort of like the good mouth-feel of an excellent wine or coffee versus what you get from the chain down the street.

Thank you Tor and First Second for giving me such an enjoyable mind voyage down the Hudson and then some.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The incredible shrinking czuk and the not so hotsy totsy day

I'm really bummed. I spent the day reading the The Forgiven. I thought it was the last book in a trilogy and now know I need to read another book, not yet out, to get to the end of this story.  Curse you Jana Oliver! Plus, I'm sick at home with a sinus infection and feel lousy. Is there no justice in the world?

Insult to injury -- at the doctor's office, when checking my vitals, they measured my height (as the nurse said, I was barefoot and on the scale, so why not?) I'm now officially an inch shorter.  It's not like I had a lot of height to spare, so losing so much is not making me happy. Thumbiczuka.  Feh. (Picture taken a few weeks ago with the Best Beast I know, back when I thought I was tall.)

(Review to follow when I get over my disappointment and feel better.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton

Little known fact:  my baccalaureate degree (or at least one of them) was in history -- with a sub-specialty in British history.  The year I spent living in London offered the usual delights of a University student living abroad, plus the unbelievable thrill of wandering my new city and recognizing places right there in front of me that I'd read about in books or heard of in lectures back in musty classrooms in upstate New York.  It was kind of like that with this book.  Inside a wonderful tale, Author Kiki Hamilton tucked references to places I knew from history, or have seen in real life.  Even yesterday morning, on the radio, I heard Serpentine Lake mentioned in a story about a Greek Olympic hopeful, and there it was later in the day in  The Faerie Ring.  Things like that make me know I'm reading the right book at the right time.

This story has it all: adventure, history, fantasy, romance -- and the promise of more of the magic to come.  I loved the alternate world that Kiki Hamilton created, Victorian England with Faeries. And the family of orphans living on the streets seemed part Oliver Twist, part The Invention of Hugo Cabret (aren't they in an old watchmaker's too?  Maybe the same one?!) Loved the mixed meanings of faerie rings. Plus there's the mystery of what the birthmark on Tiki's wrist means.  All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my dip into Tiki's world, and look forward to another Victorian romp as soon as I can get my hands on the second book in the series.

I'd like to thank Tor for sending this copy of the book, and for providing a sound alternative for me to give my granddaughters, to show them that there is good reading to be found that doesn't involve sparkly vampires.

Broxo by Zack Giallongo

A graphic YA debut novel -- now that's kinda cool, and probably why it was on my wishlist. (Many thanks to Tor books for sending it on and proving that wishes really do come true.)

Zora, a princess with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, and a dislike of hunting, arrives on the mountain of the Peryton clan, hoping to lead them back to her father and win his favor. What she finds instead is a desolate and dangerous place, inhabited by gnarly creatures, mostly intent on making her their next meal. She also finds Broxo, who calls himself king of the mountain, his amigo Migo, who reminded me of a uni-horned bear/panther, and a witchlike woman named Ulith (and her weasely minons). And there are some unhappy walking dead about, who periodically crawl from a noxious lake in search of living breakfast.

Broxo and Zora learn the truth behind the walking dead and team up to help all become right in their world.  While I found the art sometimes a little muddy, I still had no trouble following the story.  There were some nice moments both in the graphics and in the storyline, and only a few where I had to go back and re-examine panels to make sure I was getting it right.  (It may have also been due to a fever -- my temp was 102.5 when reading it this morning, until meds kicked in.) If Broxo was a little cloutish, it's only fair to remember that he basically raised himself.  If Zora was a little snotty, it's only fair to remember that her lack of social skills probably came from being a princess.  Migo, however, for me was a star, brave, loving, loyal, and strong.  I want a Migo in my life.

This book is scheduled for release October 2, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

Take Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest, throw in steampunk, and you get the basic essence of this book.  I approached it expecting a droll comedy of manners and wasn't disappointed.  High literature, it's not, but I still enjoyed it. I suppose were one looking for something a little deeper, and not being a fan of Victoriana, it would be quite easy to feel put out. As it was, I was put out enough by having broken my toe and not being able to do my usual activities, so curling carefully up, with my foot elevated and ice applied to the injured area, this was a fine way to spend time.

In All Men of Genius we have girl masquerading as boy, to enter an exclusively male institution of higher scientific learning. Then there's the romance element: Does girl love mentor? Is mentor attracted to her as a boy? As a girl? As both? Plus all the dalliances of secondary characters, the various inventions, the hints of mysteries... It made for a fun day or so.

Were I of a more critical mind, I might have been dissatisfied with character development, but as I was looking at this as a comedy of manners, I instead delighted in discovering the usual suspects: the dandy, the fop, the fallen woman with the heart of gold, etc. And of course the mixups regarding genders and who is attracted to whom, as well as the poking of fun of the upper class.

The Author's note and Mrs Willkes oscillating device were particularly fun to stumble into. I'd originally wanted to read this in the hopes of recommending it to the granddaughters in the hopes of weaning them from sparkly vampires, but there are some pretty heated opinions about "inverts" in their home, so I may wait a little.  Interestingly, another book I'm reading now also has a female masquerading as a male, only in that case, it's as a eunuch rather than a young scientist.

This book was sent to me by Tor Books.  Many thanks for sending it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Goodbye for now by Laurie Frankel

"Death is for Life". This concept becomes the driving force in this novel about computer geek Sam and matched-by-computer-dating-program soul mate Meredith. Don't roll your eyes and stop reading. The program is one written by Sam when he was employed by a computer dating service, which then got him Meredith, but got him fired, because the program was too good, and would cost the company too much in lost customers who found true mates. (Apparently the money to be made in computer dating is in unsuccessful matches. Succeed too quickly and you win, but the business loses.)

Sam and Meredith's honeymoon period of love survives the hit of grief that comes when Meredith's beloved grandmother, Livvie, dies. But like any geek-boy-in-love would do, Sam designs a program, based on Livvie's emails, texts, video chats, etc (luckily Livvie was a tech savvy grandma) to create a simulation that looks, sounds, and even responds like Livvie, so that his bereaved girlfriend can, if not skirt Kubler-Ross's stages of grieving, slide through them holding Livvie's virtual hand.

Here's where things get even more interesting (because things up to now have been witty banter and falling-in-love interesting, but not so much plot movement.) With Meredith's cousin, the unlikely named Dashiell Bentlively, they form a company that allows people to "talk" to their dearly departed, or at least a computerized simulation of the dead. There are satisfied customers, and those who hate it, positive media and the inevitable bad press. Haters gonna hate, right?  But since grievers gotta grieve, the business has a solid base.

But wait! There's more.  And the more is what I was dreading since opening this novel.  Blurbs on the back talk about heart-rendering and other such words that often hint that something really hard is going to happen. I was biting my nails waiting for The Bad Thing, which did come, but then I was right there with the gang climbing out of that pit of grief. 

I don't have a virtual reality version of my loved dead ones, except for the version that plays in my head and heart 24/7. But I understand that not everyone has this. For me, it's a blessing. If I didn't have it, I'd probably want RePose. Maybe not, I can't say for sure. But I am glad I had this book, in any case.

There are some fabulous lines in the text, which I flagged, and will try and get posted in this review later.

Received this thorough courtesy of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Walking England in America

I remember taking friends visiting from England on the czuk-walking tour of Charleston. So much of British and colonial history are intertwined, that it was kind of fun to joke about the what if's the Revolutionary War had gone differently. My friends insisted Americans would pronounce aluminum correctly and refer to the proper sport with the term "football". One of my friends melodramatically pronounced July 4 to be a day of mourning for him, rather than one of celebrations.

"Yes," countered his companion.  Think of all the souls who would be speaking proper English now.

We bantered back and forth.  They bemoaned being in such a barbaric country where beer was not served at the proper temperature.  They wailed that nowhere could they find proper cream, only "heavy" cream or something called half-and-half.  And the things called English Muffins? Pah!

We continued to walk around downtown, until I took them to one of the cobblestone streets that still are around. The stones had been ballast for ships coming to Charleston from around the world, a large number from England. We spent the next 15 minutes stepping from stone to stone, "walking on Mother England" and the precious ground of my hometown in with each footfall.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Oops! Forgot this picture in the last post. These guys are so cute, I almost don't want to eat them.  But I do want to try pysanky with them!

Silver and Gold

Somewhere in my early life I learned a little musical round with the words
Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver and the other gold.
This weekend was a lovely blending of the two. Does it matter that one just turned two? (He'd be the new friend) or that I haven't seen the other in probably 15 years? Nah. That's the beauty of some friendships. You pick up where you left off. And we did. It was splendiforous. 

 (That's Marco, the just turned two grandson of my friend Doris, playing hide and seek in the courtyard of Kudu, where we stopped for a beer (Don't fall over in shock because it wasn't a coffee!) Marco's mother is expecting Baby #2, a girl, and she's threatening to name her Dora, so her kids can be Marco Polo and Dora the Explorer.) 

It was hotter than Satan's armpit (as my friend Sarah described it. I was less descriptive and said hotter than stink), but we still rambled about Chucktown, explored the  Farmer's Market at Marion Square , cooled off in the Children's Museum, and even had time to introduce Marco to Diggity Doughnuts (the second to last day Amber'll be doughnutting it this summer. You can still get them July 4th at Whole Foods) and the Medway Park/Riverland Terrace Sunday Brunch  Farmer's Market (last official day, though there may be some renegade appearances by some of the merchants and food trucks over the summer). Doris fell in love with the art work by Andy of Artisan Tees and snagged a souvenir for herself.  Adding a bit of "how cool is that" to a stinking hot day, I was able to score some quail eggs from Bonnie of Lazy B Quail Farm. Plus for literal coolness, my freezer now holds a sweet treat of chocolate gelato from my favoritest pasta guy in the whole wide world, who has added new delights to his repertoire. As if fresh pasta and killer sauces, etc weren't enough. We're having Rio Bertolini's ravioli tonight, with a salad mixed greens, and a seeded baguette with its own brand of Magic.  Local goodness. Mmmm...

Anyhow, being with my silver and gold made for a wonderful weekend. In the slathering heat, and sticky afternoons, we found the laughter, love, and peace that can only be found in true friendship.