Friday, March 28, 2008

As If I Need Another Blog

There's such a big adventure brewing over the course of the next year that I figured it needed its own blog. You can Sail A-Hue with me at the new blog that will detail the preparations for a month-long adventure in Hue, Vietnam. I can't promise that it will see frequent updates this far ahead, but I'm sure that as the time draws nearer and the preparations get into full gear, I'll be spending a lot of time over there. It might actually help me keep everything better organized.

Monday, March 24, 2008

What I Did on Easter Afternoon

I decided to spend Easter afternoon or about four hours of it being creative. Having a deadline really helps me suppress my anal-retentive (yes, it does have a hyphen) tendencies to make every corner match and try to do everything perfectly. I decreed that this project, one I've been wanting to do for quite a while, would be done in the afternoon. As it turned out, I had to do one last circuit of zigzag stitch after dinner, but that was only because my mom, who lives with us, sort of expects dinner at a certain time, and I was pushing up against it. Unfortunately, it occurred to me as I was working away that I hadn't done any "before" pictures, which made it easy to talk myself out of taking any "during" ones. I did take some "after" ones, though, so on with the story.

The project was based on one that ran in one of my favorite magazines, Quilting Arts, a while back. The idea was to do a drawing of your face, applique it in pieces onto a piece of fabric, and make a small quilt. I didn't want to put it on a quilt, though; I wanted to put it on the back of one of several denim jackets I bought at Goodwill for $3.50 each. I'd had the jackets for almost a year, as well as a khaki miniskirt I bought at the same time planning to use it for the face. I did the drawing of myself last summer, at which point I hadn't started to grow my hair out. I didn't bother to change the drawing, though, since the idea was to do my face as more of a caricature than an accurate representation.

The first step was to ask my husband, who was going into his office, to make several copies of the drawing, so that I could cut them apart in different ways. While he was doing that, I assembled the materials and decided which jacket to use. (I put one of the jackets aside to do a discharge design on the back, which may well warrant a future post.) The second step was to think ahead about ordering the whole thing. I planned to use fusible web to adhere each piece to the one underneath it and then use my sewing machine to zigzag around the outside to accent the edges and keep them from fraying. For example, the blues of my eyes would have to go onto the whites of my eyes which then had to go onto my face.

Once I got the copies of the face back, I cut them up into various puzzle pieces. Fortunately, it occurred to me that since I'd be zigzagging around all the shapes on the face (nose, eyes, lips) I shouldn't put the fusible web on the back of the face to start with since sewing through it might gum up my not-cheap sewing machine. I thought about doing the face and neck as separate pieces so that the face would appear to sit out from the neck a bit, but decided that the quick and dirty way was okay. In other words, the chin line was just going to be stitched on in zigzag stitch. I did decide, though, that the nose should be a real piece of the same fabric as the face, appliqued on and stitched around to give it some real definition. It was fun to try to come up with colors for the blue of my eyes, the pink of my lips, and the blond of my hair. The hair, especially, is a bit of a caricature; my hair, while naturally blond, has never been the shade of gold I used. And although the drawing shows me in the glasses I wear all the time, I decided that adding them to the fabric me would be too difficult. I might try to add them, though, if I repeat the project on another jacket or in a quilt.

So, here's the finished result on the jacket as well as a bit closer up since you can't really see the nose on the jacket image. If you're curious about any of the how-to that I didn't elaborate on above, just ask! I'd be glad to share. It was a fun way to spend an Easter afternoon, and the type of project I could see myself doing again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

NaNoWriMo? NoMo!

I’ve attempted and won National Novel Writing Month for the past three years, but I’m afraid the streak has come to an end with 2007. As it happens, I will be writing—probably a lot—in November 2008, but it will be on a statistics book rather than a new zombie novel.

About a year and a half ago I got a cryptic e-mail from Ralph, who supervised my doctoral dissertation in 1981-1982. As a bit of background, my degree is nominally in social psychology, but my dissertation research was in statistics, on “The Finite-Sample Properties of Analysis of Covariance Tests under the Multiple Design Multivariate Linear Model.” I was planning to do some re-training and start a career in stat when I met a nuclear physicist in the laundromat. Wedding bells, maternity clothes, fast forward 23 years and, well, any notion of statistics had fallen by the wayside. My business card does say “data analysis,” but what I get hired to do around here is pretty pedestrian, descriptive stuff. I sometimes feel as if I’ve forgotten more than I once knew about real, inferential statistics.

Anyway, Ralph’s e-mail simply said “Call me” and provided a cell phone number. I called him, and he asked me if I wanted to write a book with him on an area of statistics that didn’t really exist in significant form when I was in school. He said that he’d had a publisher after him for about five years to do the book, but that he simply didn’t have the time to write it. Would I write it with him? He’d handle the statistics part; I’d handle the verbiage. I agreed to think about it, and we’ve been going back and forth on various things since then, including formulating an outline (table of contents, really) and working up the first two chapters.

Last week, we sat down with the third author (whom I’d never met but with whom Ralph has collaborated in the past) and had a rollicking good discussion of the project. We also met with publishing reps who gave us various forms to complete but who also told us they’d like to have the first five chapters by July in order to get some teaser stuff ready for a meeting in August. They also discussed when they’d like to see the book come out, which will pretty much mean a chapter a month for the next year and a half.

There’s no signed contract, but this somewhat nebulous “yeah, I might be writing a stat book” project seems to have become very real very fast. I shall miss National Novel Writing Month, but see no way this side of hades or heaven to think I could work a 50,000 word novel in while writing something of this magnitude. I shall endeavor, however, to work a zombie into an example somewhere in homage to the fourth zombie novel I otherwise would have written come November 2008.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Bean Trees (Review)

Several people have recommended Barbara Kingsolver to me, in particular, Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. I haven’t read that one yet, but I was not disappointed in The Bean Trees as an introduction to Kingsolver. It is much more a character novel than an action one, but that suits the psychology major side of me.

The Bean Trees is the story of Marietta Greer, who grows up in rural Kentucky with a fear of putting air in a tire and a dream of avoiding motherhood, or at least pregnancy. Leaving home in her early 20s, Marietta changes her name to Taylor before finding herself in Tucson, Arizona, working at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires and mother to Turtle, a three-year-old Native American girl put in her car outside a bar in the middle of Oklahoma. Taylor and Turtle live and form something of a family with Lou Ann, another expatriate from Kentucky, and her infant son Dwane Ray.

Despite the fact that Taylor is in her 20s, The Bean Trees seems, more than anything else, a coming-of-age story. She wrestles with many things, not the least of which is Turtle, whom Taylor discovers was abused before being left in the car. She wrestles with injustice in the world as she learns that Jesus Is Lord Used Tires offers sanctuary to Guatemalan refugees unable to win asylum in the U.S. She wrestles with her feelings for one of the refugees, Estevan, who fled Guatemala with his wife, Esperanza, after the government there killed Esperanza’s brother and two other members of their teachers’ union. At the same time, the government kidnapped Ismene, Estevan and Esperanza’s daughter, as a hostage to be exchanged for the names of other union members. Rather than turn in their friends, Estevan and Esperanza left the country, hoping that Ismene would be, as other such children had been, given to a government or military official unable to have children of their own.

Not all the loose ends are tied nicely together at the end of the book. Nor did all the little threads have happy endings. I did not find that offputting, because that’s life. There were several passages that really got to me or got me thinking. I’ll only share here Taylor’s discussion of parenthood with Mattie, her boss at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. I’ll let you discover the other thought-provoking ones on your own reading.

“Taylor, honey, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think you’re asking the wrong question.”
“How do you mean?”
“You’re asking yourself, Can I give this child the best possible upbringing and keep her out of harm’s way her whole life long? The answer is no, you can’t. But nobody else can either. Not a state home, that’s for sure. For heaven’s sake, the best they can do is turn their heads while the kids learn to pick locks and snort hootch, and then try to keep them out of jail. Nobody can protect a child from the world. That’s why it’s the wrong thing to ask, if you’re really trying to make a decision.”
“So what’s the right thing to ask?”
“Do I want to try? Do I think it would be interesting, maybe even enjoyable in the long run, to share my life with this kid and give her my best effort and maybe, when all’s said and done, end up with a good friend.”

Quality Rating: 10 out of 10, if you like books that are more character- than action-driven. Otherwise, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Audience Rating: I think this would be a good book for teens or even a bit earlier who are wrestling with some of the “who am I” questions of those years, though they will obviously read it from a different starting point than this 51-year-old mother of two college or beyond kids did. In other words, while not “E” for “Everyone,” I think middle school and up could appreciate this book without being offended or otherwise put off.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Taking a Deep Breath

I am obviously still trying to get a handle on this whole blog thing. I read on one of the blogs that Debi reads regularly (I can't find it now to link to) that I should be posting something three times weekly or thereabouts. Yeah, I wish! So let me try one of Debi's tricks of quickly listing some things. Of course, as is often remarked, I am a verbal person, and very few things I express come quickly.

A couple of things I have been grateful for in the past two weeks:

That I reconnected with my cousin Rich and got to know his wife Debi and their wonderful kids, Annie, Gray, and Max. It's been more than three decades since Rich and I have actually been in the same room together, and I've never met the others, but we're hoping to remedy that before three more decades pass.

Modern medical science and doctors who don't mess around. I had a torn meniscus repaired Tuesday much less invasively than would have been the case a few years ago. My post-op instructions included to go to the gym the very next day and ride an exercise cycle (no resistance) for 30 minutes. It wasn't easy, but I did it, and have kept doing it. Today, the only thing that hurts is going down the stairs. As long as I don't move too quickly, I can walk just fine.

More modern medical science and different docs. For several months, my dad has been in treatment for multiple myeloma, something that can't be cured but can be treated. His treatments are working so far, and the docs hope to rearrange them a bit to give him a bit more energy.

Teenagers! Yes, teenagers, especially the ones I do Myo Sim kendo with, who don't treat me like the old lady I may seem to them to be. I earned my brown belt last week testing with a partner who is one-third of my age and who is off to the Air Force Academy next year. Teenagers are fun people, one of the reasons I still try help with things at the high school when I can.

My own kids, one of whom is no longer a teenager. They make me laugh more than they make me cry. They are good kids of whom I am proud. Right now, I am proud that my older son is a finalist in a local short story contest, which means his story has been or is being read by the contest judge, John Grisham. I am proud that my younger son chose as his Eagle Scout project to re-do the nature trail at the elementary school he attended, something that he will not personally benefit from (other than getting his Eagle) but that will have a positive impact on so many other kids.

My husband, who puts up with my light-bulb nature and who helps me keep it all in perspective by encouraging me, usually with a straight face, to "laugh at yourself, and make it unanimous."