Honor Flight

Norman, Lloyd, and me

Norman, Lloyd, and me at the WW2 Memorial.

Of my four grandparents, three are Veterans.  My mother’s parents are both World War 2 Veterans.  My grandmother was in the Navy and my grandfather was in the Army.  My father’s father is a Korean War Veteran.  Of the three of them, my maternal grandfather has been the most open with his military experience.  He has been involved, over the years, with various Veteran groups.  He volunteers at the VA Hospital to this day.  He use to take trips for reunions.  In fact, my grandmother joined him until she was too frail to continue.

Norman at WW2 Memorial

Norman at WW2 Memorial- The Massachusetts pillar

I spend a lot of time with Norman.  In the years since I moved to Boston, it has been very important to me that I get to spend time with both my grandparents.  Both are in their mid-90s.  I don’t know how much time I have left. When Norman asked me to join him on a program called Honor Flight I said yes before I even knew what I agreed to do.

Honor Flight is an organization that takes Veterans to DC and gives them a chance to see the various monuments and memorials to our nations military branches and the wars they have fought.  The New England hub right now only takes World War 2 Veterans.  The trip is free for the Veterans.  Guardians have to pay to go with them.  A few hubs, New England among them, actually allow family members to go.  Many have stopped doing it.  They have found a few bad, entitled apples have made it more work than it is worth for them.

Norman and Me

Norman and me before we leave for the airport.

As Norman’s guardian I was completely responsible for him.  I made sure he had everything he needed.  I helped him get around.  When he was tired, I pushed his wheel chair.  Trust me, that wheel chair work out is probably the best workout I have had in a while.  I wheeled him up hill in 85 degree heat and about 95% humidity.  I got my heart rate up pretty high.  The trip is all about the Veterans, but sometimes family members forget that.  They want to wander off for pictures.  They want to make sure they see as much as they can.  Plus, these are men and women who are often use to just doing what they want.  If they can walk, like Norman, they want to just go.  I often had to jog to catch up with him during the day.

It is worth it if you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.  Our trip was the weekend before Memorial Day.  We had been to a training a few weeks before.  It was more for me to be ready for the day, but he went to meet some of the other Veterans.   They prepared us for helping the Veterans, but little for the itinerary of the day.  We knew the basics: leaving very early, they take care of everything, returning late at night.

The Washington Monument as seen from the WW2 memorial

The Washington Monument as seen from the WW2 memorial

We had to be at Logan Airport by 5am.  Those who came from farther than us must have been completely exhausted by the end of the day.  Norman and I barely slept from excitement ourselves.  We were on a charter flight by 8am.  From where we met at Logan to the gate, there was more fanfare than we expected.  We had an police escort to the terminal.  As we walked to the gate we were greeted by police, other Veteran organization, ROTC units, and curious people just at the airport for their own flights.  People stayed at the gate with us.  Younger ROTC members talked to the Veterans about their war experiences.  People walking to their stopped to find out what we were doing.

The flight out was quiet.  We all knew the day would be long so we wanted to rest while we could.  It was not a long flight.  We landed in Baltimore to a water cannon salute on the runway and more people waiting to greet us.  We were assigned to one of our three buses.  We spent the entire trip on the same bus.  We made our way to the World War 2 Memorial and watched a video about it as we drove from Baltimore to D.C..

A picture left at the WW2 memorial

A picture left at the WW2 memorial

Norman had been to the memorial a few years before, but I had never been before.  It is a large memorial split into two halves: Atlantic and Pacific theaters.  Each state has a pilar, each battle location in that theater is put around a fountain.  You would see people leaving pictures at various places around the memorial.  We walked around with Norman’s friend Lloyd and his son.  We took pictures.  You could see the Washington and Lincoln memorials from where we stood.  A university graduation had ended just as we arrived to we walked around with the graduates and their families.  There were two other Honor Flight groups there as well.  It was crowded and exciting.  We spent quite a while there before getting back on the bus.

The Navy Memorial

The Navy Memorial

The itinerary of the day was never clear.  We didn’t know where we were going until we got there.  We had a very general idea of what we could get to see, but we were warned that we may have to do some drive-bys if time didn’t permit the time to walk around.  Our next stop, after a drive through the city, was the Navy Memorial.  This was right across the street from the National Archive.  Norman stayed in the bus, but I got out to take pictures.  I loved the simple way they used the color of the concrete to design the map.  It almost looked like a rain storm had simply wet the ground in the shape of a map.

Arlington Cemetery Changing of the Guard

Arlington Cemetery Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We did know we would make it to Arlington Cemetery to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.  This was a very touching part of the trip.  The guards don’t speak other than to explain the ceremony we are watching.  The guards scraped the side of their shoes as they walked by.  While it would simply appear as a falter, it was really a gesture of thanks to the men who served their country.  It was one of the few times I found my eyes tearing up.  I expected it to happen more often than it did.

The Lincoln Monument

The Lincoln Monument

We got to stop at the Lincoln Memorial.  We only had 30 minutes to decide which of the three memorials we wanted to see at that stop: Lincoln, Vietnam, or Korean.  Norman and I made the decision to see the Korean War Memorial.  Our logic was that we had both seen the Vietnam Memorial and Lincoln Monument in the past.  Neither of us had seen the Korean War Memorial.  I am glad we did.

The Korean War Memorial is a very moving memorial.  Like the Vietnam Memorial it includes an expanse of grey granite. Instead of names engraved on it, it features faces of people.  They look like shadows and reflections on the granite.  It is very haunting.  The statues next to it are suppose to be actual men who served.

The Korean War Memorial

The Korean War Memorial

I am very happy we picked this one out of the three.  You can see from my picture how the reflection of the people at the memorial and the people embossed on the granite merge with each other.  There were flowers and wreaths left at various places around the memorial.  There were school groups and families around as well.  So many people came up and thanked Norman for his service.  He even commented how tired his hand would be by the end of the day.

The Korean War Memorial

The Korean War Memorial

What I learned about Norman on this trip was fascinating.  I learned more about his service than ever before.  I knew he had been in Northern Africa and Italy, but I learned that he had also been stationed in Northern Ireland for a while.  I knew he had driven an ambulance, but it really hit how much death he would have seen because of this.  He approaches his service with humor.  He didn’t see combat, but he still doesn’t talk about what he did see.  I realized how much he and I are alike.  We are both sarcastic and use humor to deflect.  I didn’t want to push him to talk more than he wanted to knowing how I react in similar situation.

The Air Force Memorial

The Air Force Memorial

The last memorial we got to see was the Air Force Memorial.  This one is in Arlington, just outside the cemetery.  You see the spires as you drive around the city.  This was another beautiful memorial.  When you stand at the edge of the spires you can see the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Monument in the distance.  The memorial was quieter than any other.  We were the only ones there for quite a while.  By this time the sky had cleared and we were tired.  Norman stayed in the bus again, but I walked around.  I love the pictures I got here, especially they one on the left.  The statues of the color guard stand to the right of the spires.  Like at the WW2 Memorial, you could see pictures left by other visitors.

Pictures left at the Air Force Memorial

Pictures left at the Air Force Memorial

They took us to dinner after this.  We had lunch on the bus, but we went to a hotel in Baltimore for dinner.  It was a chance for us to relax a bit before the flight home.  We sat with Lloyd again and with people we had not met on other buses.  We heard about what they had taken away from the day.  On the drive to the hotel they had done a mail call.  I had contacted the family to write letters to Norman.  While not everyone in the family wrote something, there were a few unexpected ones from people he didn’t expect.

The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building

The Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building

The whole thing doesn’t end until we got back to the Logan police station.  Even as we landed and walked to the shuttles at Logan, people greeted us.  It was 11pm on a Sunday night, but Boy Scouts waited to greet us.  It was a nice way to end a day.  I passed out as soon as we went to bed.

They were very good to us on the trip.  They gave us certificates, played games, and even entertained us as we waited for our flight home.  I had time to get a few souvenirs.  I am so glad I was the one who got to go with Norman on this trip.  I would love to go again (even though I would have to pay for it) as a volunteer.  I would help a Veteran who didn’t have family to go with him or her.  It may not be possible for a while, but someday I am sure I will.  Until then, I am working on making a photo book for Norman with my pictures.  I have so many that I took to make sure I could.

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Hot Pattern Coming Through!

Ravelry Hot Patterns

Day three on the Hot Pattern List

You may recall that last year I designed a blanket for a friend who had a baby- the Gradient Blanket.  It was my first blanket pattern and my third pattern ever.  At the time it had been years since I had designed anything.  I put it up on Ravelry (a social network for knitters, crocheters, and spinners).  Ravelry has hundreds of patterns so, I was excited to see, after a few weeks, people had made the pattern and posted pictures.  It was my best response yet and it was respectable, but not overwhelming.

That was almost a year ago.  I have been designing patterns since, but nothing is ready for publishing.  I am beginning to put value on the designs I create.

You can imagine my surprise when, doing some updates to the blog last month, I saw a HUGE spike in my statistics.  Usually I get about 10 hits to the blog when I publish a post, which is obviously not regularly.  Suddenly I had almost 800 hits in one day.  That was a Sunday.   By Monday I had almost 1,500 views.  The vast majority, if not all of them, came from Ravelry.  As I explored what changed, I found myself on a list of hot patterns, a list very visible for Ravelry users.

I have yet to find the origin of the spike, but I am thrilled with it.  Knowing my pattern is getting out there and that people like it really makes me happy.  It prompted me to make some adjustments to the patterns I have up.  Over the course of the week not only were there hits here, but the pattern was downloaded 500 times once I put it in a Ravelry store.  Things have quieted down since then, but the pattern is still being downloaded.

As a budding designer, it was very encouraging.  My knitting friends gave me feedback on why this happened.  The pattern is simple and I did a good job writing the pattern so that people can understand what to do.  I made edits to encourage personalization.  This has created a bit of a jump start on my designing.  I am feeling more confident about designs I have been working on as well.  I am even learning more about running a store.

It is interesting what can happen so suddenly and how it can push forward ideas that are sitting the back of a brain.  When I think of how vague I have felt about plans for the years, I am realizing that there are parts of ideas in my head, but they are things I am not ready to move forward.  With the first half of the year almost passed, it is weird for me to not have concrete goals.  I am simply moving forward on momentum from things I have already started: tenure, publication, and traveling for example.  To have this happen allows me the chance to taking a vague dream and move forward with it.  I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

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My 2014 In Review and Hopes for 2015

Tonight is the last night of 2014.  For me it has been a crazy and exciting year.  So little of it was shared here though.

January: I spent the first few weeks of the new year in the UK visiting Leslie in Oxford and then seeing Cardiff and London for the first time.  It was the first of many trips I took in 2014.  Even after a late start thanks to a massive blizzard, I got there and saw everything I had wanted to see, eat all the things I wanted to eat, and started re-thinking retirement plans.

February: This was probably the quietest month of the year, but only because I knew so much was coming up.  I did attend my grandfather’s 94 birthday celebration at his synagogue and my mother came into town.  While the Olympics went on on Russia, I participated in the Ravellenic Games (on the knitting social network website Ravelry) for the first time and completed the project I picked for myself.

March: I got to visit Emily and Adam in Louisiana.  Even though the trip was intended to simply spend time with my friends, Emily and I explored the local area together.  This was also about the time I applied for my sabbatical and made decisions about how I would spend my time.

April: Not only did I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo and finish, but I wrote the first fictional content that wasn’t part of my epic, never to be read by anyone else, universe.  I went to Miami to see friends, including a party to celebrate the almost-retirement of my friend Etta.

May: Not only was this month Book Expo, but I presented at WikiCon USA.  This was my first time presenting my Wikipedia research outside my small academic circle and to people who knew Wikipedia better than I did.  I also got news about my sabbatical plans and learned I was being given a reduced workload for a year to work on my projects.

June: I started my sabbatical and went to Portland, OR for AdaCamp.  For my sabbatical I finished work on a collaborative article that had been in development for years.  I created my first blanket pattern that I made available for free.

July: With summer in full swing I mostly spent my free time visiting people and trying to get a sun tan for Katie’s wedding.  I spent 2 days on Cape Cod with Pat and Vic.  I realized it was a great plan to spend a week on the beach with them the next summer.   I also wrote another novel for Camp NaNoWriMo and for the first time worked on an idea that only came to me a few weeks before.

August: My mother came into town and we went back to the Cape to spend a day with family.  I jumped into planning the Wikipedia edit-a-thons with my friend Win from the local public library.

September: Fall kicked off with a new school year, my 38th birthday and my sister’s wedding in northern California.  I attended THATCamp at Harvard to learn more about digital humanities projects and related topics.  I spent a weekend in the Hamptons with Debbie.

October: While it seemed pretty quiet, most of the month was spent preparing for November and December.  The summer’s article was submitted for peer review.  I started the planning for November’s NaNoWriMo and for the first Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in December.

November: I spent most of the month writing my 11 novel for NaNoWriMo.  When my mother was in town for another visit, I sprained my ankle forcing me to take it easier than I anticipated.  It did make it easier to write and knit.  Before that happened I did attend the New England Sheep and Wool festival for Pat’s birthday.

December: The year ended with the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon at the start of the month and then a quick trip to Miami for a visit.  My grandfather traveled with me to be at a party my mother planned to celebrate Katie and Bethany’s wedding with people who had been unable to attend.  I made Harry Potter themed stockings for Katie and Bethany’s first Christmas together.

By the end of this year I have knit 35 different projects, 20 squares for a blanket for myself, and designed 2 projects of my own.  I read 82 books over the year including a good number of audiobooks.  I wrote for all three NaNoWriMo events and won each one.

For next year I have just started thinking about the things I want to do.  I know I have to finally get an article published, apply for sabbatical, and start making some big picture plans for what I want.  There are still more Wikipedia edit-a-thons, my 2015 discussion series, and more.  For now, happy new year!

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Knitting Designs: Interlocking Key Chain

Interlocking Key Chain

Interlocking Key Chain

For years I have been trying to find a nice interlocking keychain so I can separate my house and car keys as needed.  Now, living in a home with a garage, I don’t usually need my house keys.  I decided to make my own by felting the yarn.  I put the pattern together now that I have finished the project and am making it available for free.

Download Pattern: Interlocking Key Chain

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Pushing Through

After all my work this summer, I am finally seeing some movement on my projects.  My first professional book review has officially been published.  Of course, it is behind a pay wall so you can only see a little.

This came just as I submitted my first article for peer review.  For those not aware of the peer review process, let me walk you through what has been going on and what will happen.

About 2 years ago I thought it would be a good idea to write an article with other academic librarians from around the country.  What we have in common is that we all have run cultural/public programs in academic libraries.  These types of programs happen often in public libraries, but academic libraries are just beginning to run them.  I have run a bunch.  Every spring when I run another discussion series, I am running a cultural program for the public.  The five of us also happened to have been awarded grants to run specific programs from the American Library Association (ALA).

It took us 2 years to make any progress for a variety of reasons.  First, we all get very busy between September and May.  Taking the time to coordinate is almost impossible.  Second, I had no idea what I was doing as the leader of the group.  When you are a kinesthetic learner, the best way to learn is by doing and messing up.  For a year we looked at the literature to see what research gaps needed to be filled.  For a year we ran a survey to get data from other librarians regarding our research questions.  This summer, thanks primarily to my workload reduction, I was able to push things forward.  We were able to review the research, write the article and submit it.  Synthesizing data is not always easy, but our findings were not surprising.  I believe our experiences were very similar to those who responded to our surveys.  By the end of August we had a finial draft and had picked a journal for submission.

Each journal has their own requirements for manuscripts.  Primarily it relates to formats and citations.  I have used the American Psychological Associations (APA) style for most of my academic career.  The journal we selected required the Chicago Manual of Style format.  Converting one style to another is not easy, especially when they are radically different.  It has been years since I used endnotes.  It took me about a month to finish the conversion to a point that made me feel like I had done it correctly.  There are also requirements for title pages, abstracts, how the authors are listed on the article, and where the tables exist.

Today I submitted the article to the journal.  I have to wait for the peer review committee to review it and send back their feedback.  I teach this process to students all the time.  This is how research happens.  When a huge medical development happens (cure for cancer for example), we are not hearing about the moment of cure.  What we are hearing about is the publication of the article about curing cancer.  Peer review makes information more reliable because other field experts are reading and reviewing.  They are making sure the conclusions are supported by the data among other things.  It takes a while.  In medicine articles can take almost a year to go through this process.

Now I have to wait.  I should get feedback on the article.  Getting feedback is a good thing in this process.  If there is no feedback then I could conclude many things about the journal and few of them would be good.  Yes, five people have already had their eyes on this article, but the more eyes, the better for publishing journal articles.

Don’t worry, I will post updates.  Getting this article published is one very big step forward in getting tenure and establishing a national reputation in libraries.

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Indian Summer Conference Series: THATCamp Harvard

While it is technically Fall, you wouldn’t know that from the 80+ temperatures outside last weekend.  I guess that officially makes this an Indian Summer.  Is that term really still used?

Anyway, I am sitting at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education Library learning more about the Digital Humanities and technology.  The Digital Humanities are those projects that seek to digitize archives, collect and distribute data about humanities fields, and teach students using technology.  I came because I am interested in many new things these days and to have a chance to talk to more people about Wikipedia.  Not just to talk about editing and conflicts, but also about projects and helping people become editors.

After the very positive experience with an unconference at AdaCamp this summer, I was excited to see the model used at another conference.  I even focused on what type of session I would propose.  On Saturday morning, as I rode the T 3 stops to Harvard Square, I knew on what direction to focus: Wikipedia (obviously) and connecting Digital Humanities projects to increase project visibility.  I hoped there would be other editors and maybe even other editors ready to share experiences with doing just that.  I wanted to make it a fluid session so that people could easily discuss Wikipedia, but also hopefully have time to play with it.

It was clear, even after the first session of lightning talks, the projects people were working on are amazing.  There was a mapping project of the trenches in World War 1 along the western front.  There were some amazing digital archives.  My favorite was a visualization of music along the color spectrum.  It brought to mind when the AdaCamp participants wished more people in the arts and humanities were meeting them.  Yes, I did a small push for AdaCamp.  The biggest topic, from the sessions I attended, was how to find the tech people and how much non-techies needed to know in order to really engage and explain their project to coders.

My proposal was accepted and we had a great discussion about using Wikipedia.  Most people were just ready to wade into editing for the first time.  It was really invigorating to help people take that first, difficult step.  Editing Wikipedia requires confidence and sometimes you just need to know a few rules to have that confidence.  I met a bunch of people I have been following on Twitter as well.

I walked away feeling like I learned about a lot of fascinating projects, new knowledge, and potential collaborators.  As I move forward in my career, I know this is a group to continue to work with and pay attention to.

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I sit here at the end of my birthday weekend.  The summer is officially over for the world, even it the weather doesn’t quite agree with us about that.  For the world, this summer has been terrible.  Personally, it was a very good summer.  Back in May I wrote an entry about my plans for the summer.  From conferences to writing, I had a small but complete plan in my head about what needed to happen.  How did I do?  Let’s find out.

First, I had plans to attend about 3 conferences.  Book Expo, as per usual, was a wonderful event.  I got some great books and even reigned in my gut reaction to hoard the entire collection I brought home.  Most of them have been given away and, of those I did keep, only 4 of the 7 are unread (which is pretty good for me given my To-Be-Read book shelf).  WikiCon was amazing and has really helped me move forward with both my research on Wikipedia and my desire to run Wikipedia programming on campus.  Even AdaCamp helped me move forward with my Wikipedia plans and helped me learn what is going on outside of my little library bubble.  As I create the list of conferences to attend next year my list is now at 7 different conferences locally, nationally, and internationally.  Cross your fingers: I may go to Mexico City next year if I can make the finances work!

Excessive knitting was on my list of plans for the summer.  Not only did I finish two shawls and three bow-ties for the wedding, but I failed at something.  It is interesting to find your limit with something at which you excel and enjoy.  When I was asked to knit the cowl Katniss wore in Catching Fire (no picture- copyright and all), I thought it would be a piece of cake.  It turns out I was wrong.  It was too much for me to do well and since it was a gift for my sister-in-law-to-be, I didn’t feel comfortable giving her a hot mess.  In the end we picked another item (a cute wolf cowl) and I am very happy to be done with all the wedding knitting.  Now I can get back to doing my own projects.  Considering I bought more yarn than I expected this summer, I have been spending time on Ravelry planning more projects.

My writing plans worked out a bit differently than expected.  I have been very busy writing.  I completed the July Camp NaNoWriMo as I hoped and left my writing comfort zone.  Instead of writing about characters that have been in my head for years, I wrote about those newer to me.  I played with writing style a bit (unsuccessfully, but attempted).  I focused primarily on my academic writing though.  With one article about to be put to bed and another almost ready to be pieced together, I am feeling very productive about my work-load reduction.  The process on the first article took longer than expected, but wrangling 4 other collaborators has been the chief difficulty.  I spent too much time waiting for people to respond and contribute.  In the end I realized I had to do and then put time limits onto requests.  When it came to the article I was writing on my own I realized I needed data I couldn’t get until students returned to campus.  I have been writing as much as I can (literature reviews, methodology, and findings on some of the research).  In the end I took a little longer than anticipated.

My vacation and personal time was well spent.  Two trips to Cape Cod and a weekend in The Hamptons helped me relax and get some sun.  My hope it to be able to rent a place on Cape Cod for a whole week next summer since my travel is probably going to be limited to conferences.  I read quite a bit primarily because of audiobooks.  I have been abusing Overdrive through the library most of the summer.  I have enjoyed most of them, but my main objective is to really make a dent in the TBR shelf.  It really is an entire bookshelf, not just a pile.  It is a bit overwhelming sometimes.  I made a small dent this summer and read a few good books.

Now it is time to look towards the fall semester and re-evaluate my plans.  Originally I was going to focus on the work I have done with the College of Health Sciences.  With all the focus on Wikipedia this summer, I am switching things around and am going to focus on my Wikipedia research this fall.  This is going to include both the social drama research and planning edit-a-thons with one of the public librarians.  We are planning to present at a conference about our efforts.  We are planning a lot of things and it has shifted my focus.  It may cause a total re-evaluation of my plans come spring.  I will have to wait and see.

Until then, here is the plan for the Fall

  • Finish and submit all the summer articles to journals.
  • Research Wikipedia and Social Dramas for thesis update and possible publications
  • Plan edit-a-thons with Pollard Memorial Library
  • California for Katie’s and Bethany’s wedding!
  • NaNoWriMo 2014: Sara has no plan!
  • Read, read, and read!
  • Knit ALL THE THINGS!
  • And more…

 

 

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The 15 Books I Am Very Glad I Read

According to Goodreads, I have read 1010 books.  I am quite sure this number should be higher, but honestly I have forgotten so many of the books I read.  I recently looked over the list and was amazed by what I found.  I know most of my Babysitter’s Club years are missing from the list.  I honestly can’t remember which books I read in that series before I moved on.  Also missed is the vast number of titles I read in any Sweet Valley High series before 1989.  Why did I stop in 1989?  I got in trouble for reading instead of paying attention to my teacher.  She was terrible and reading was much more enjoyable.  Most of the classic Nancy Drew titles are on the list as are a couple of the 80s era stories.

Some of my reading choices are terrible (Twilight) and some have changed my life (Fight Club).  On the list there are quite a few books I may not have ever read if it wasn’t for chance and serendipity.  Here is that list:

  1. She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan
    This title I read while I was job hunting right out of Simmons.  I had spent a few years researching the Hijras, a group of transsexuals in India.  This book peaked my interest because it is a memoir of a transexual man-to-woman in America.  While many people make this choice, in the early 2000’s we were only beginning to talk about it openly.  Finney Boylan is an accomplished academic and writer so it made her story easy to read and understand.  I ended the book wishing someone who transitioned from woman-to-man would write about his experiences.
  2. Orange is The New Black by Piper Kerman
    I only read this book in the past few months.  People get annoyed when I tell them I see movies and watch shows before I read books.  The reason: so I will enjoy both as unique creations.  I picked up this book in preparation for season 2 being marginally aware that things had deviated far from the book already.  What I like about the book is the undertone of social justice that the show treats very differently.  Kerman is able to gloss over some of her own personal issues to focus on the problems of the prison system.  The show doesn’t have the time to get into the impact the war on drugs has on the prison system.
  3. The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
    I would have never read this book if not for Nancy Pearl.  The premise is weird.  The story focuses on elevator inspectors in New York.  No, wait, come back!  In this fictional world there are two schools of inspecting: empiricists and intuitionists.  The real themes of the book: politics and racism.  There is intrigue and a mystery and all of it centers around elevator inspection.
  4. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife
    This is another book I read because of Nancy Pearl.  There are a few of them here on this list.  I am not mathematically inclined, but I seem to enjoy the concept of math.  Seife looks at why we have the number zero, how it became part of math, and what it allowed us to do.  For example: fractals would never have been possible without the number zero.  Without fractals we wouldn’t have cellphones.  All of this because of zero.
  5. The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
    I didn’t really get into graphic novels until I ran the Jewish Literature reading and discussion series at Fitchburg State.  I had read some Sandman graphic novels, but I jumped feet first when the books for the series arrived.  The Rabbi’s Cat was my favorite.  It’s is about a cat who swallows a bird and suddenly can speak.  Sfar’s illustrations really bring the story to life (and he did the movie animations).  The cat is full of snark and I love snarky characters.
  6. True Enough by Farhad Manjoo
    Manjoo was on the Daily Show to promote this book and as soon as he started talking about it, I knew I would read it.  I work in a field obsessed with trust, validity, critical thinking, and information.  I teach students how to evaluate information to determine accuracy.  Manjoo looks at the current information landscape and tries to understand WTF is going on in the news.  He looks at research done for the past 50 years on how we interpret data.
  7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
    I would love to spend a day inside Gaiman’s head.  This was not the first Gaiman book I read, but it is my favorite.  The concept that gods are beings that exist only because we believe in them is not the best part.  No, the best part is that our modern gods are douchebags representing the very worst of our values.  Plus, there is a war between the remaining old gods and the new ones.
  8. Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
    Yet another book suggested by Nancy Pearl.  Underhill’s look at how advertising works should scare the shit out of you.  The cold, calculating way retailers watch our moves in stores and our purchases choices are just the tip of an iceberg that we are only beginning to realize now.  This was written well before Target started tracking your purchases and sending you coupons based on purchases.  It was written well before Facebook, Twitter and other sites tracked our browser history to determine what ads we see.  If you want to get a better idea of what is going on behind the scenes, start here.
  9. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
    Sarah Vowell is awesome.  I suggest listening to the audiobooks for her works because she reads them.  Not only do you get the joy of her voice (she did the vocal work for Violet in the Incredibles), but you get the full force of her snark.  Vowell mixes history with her own research story in her books.  The Wordy Shipmates looks at the origin of this country, it’s Puritanical beginnings, and how terrible people could be to each other.  Rhode Island wouldn’t exist if Roger Williams hadn’t be kicked out of Massachusetts.
  10. Packing For Mars by Mary Roach
    You have to be prepared for Roach no matter what book you read.  I had the pleasure of hearing her speak about this book and her research for it while at Book Expo one year.  As soon as she spoke about taking a poop in space, I knew I would read this book.  The thing about Roach is she writes about quirky topics (dead bodies, having sex, and eating) and then she takes on the aspects of the topic that we don’t want to think about.  She, like Vowell, blends the information with her experience researching the topic.  Why?  In this case, the process of researching is just as interesting as the topic of the book.
  11. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
    Most people who know me would know this book is right up my alley.  I love books about vampires, witches and magic.  After being burned by the Twilight series, I was reluctant to take on another series about these topics.  Then Christi wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was… Then the book club decided to read the second one (I wasn’t a member when they read the first).  I gave in and just read it.  The All Souls trilogy is unique because Harkness grounds her story in academia and research.  She puts out there that there is a scientific and genetic reason for witches, demons, and vampires.  She uses her expertise is alchemy and history to build a story.  Yes, there is some questionable behavior by the male characters, but I felt she did a good job openly addressing this.  Plus, I walked around Oxford pretending I was in this novel.  I regret nothing.
  12. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
    For all that I love France, I read very little french literature.  This book was selected by my book club (not by me).  I don’t think they had any idea what they were in for.  Barbery deals with themes like isolation, being the person you are expected to be (rather than who you are), philosophy, death, and friendship.  It is funny, it is sad, and it spoke to my core in a way few books do.
  13. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
    I was not reading YA literature when Speak originally came out in 2001.  If I had been, I am sure I would have read it much sooner.  In a world where 1-in-6 women are raped, a book like this makes you realize that number is probably much higher.  Speak looks at how a rape changes a teenage victim and sinks her into depression and isolation.  It is not a long read, but it is difficult because you are in her head and until she can acknowledge what happens, you feel the weight of what happened as the reader.
  14. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    First, listen to this audiobook.  Why?  Wil Wheaton is the reader and he is amazing.  It’s also pretty meta since he is mentioned in the book.  It’s one big science fiction/technology/fantasy/gamer geek fest.  If you know geek pop culture, you will probably enjoy this book.  In this dystopian future, most people live within a video game (think Second Life, but better) where you can build the world you want.  Add in a treasure hunt/caper/scavenger hunt and world domination… It pretty awesome.
  15. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
    What I love about Rowell is that her characters are just abnormally normal people with problems that are probably pretty common.  In Eleanor and Park we go back to the 1980s and see the world through two teenagers who slowly fall in love with each other.  Park is a geek who loves comicbooks, the Smiths, and wears a lot of black.  Eleanor is a spunky red head whose family life is a disaster, but can still get worse.   It is not a happy story.  In fact, I spent a lot of time crying, but it is real in a way most of my experience YA isn’t.  This story is just one chapter in the lives of two people.  There is no rebellion to lead, big bad to fight, society to lead, vampire to keep from eating you, or life changing death.  It is simply two teenagers trying to survive high school and it is wonderful.

Hopefully these books will give you some new ones to read!  At the very least, you have a better sense of how my mind works.

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On Writing and Knowing Your Characters

I have been playing with the idea of this entry for a while.  What has held me back is that I can’t attribute the origin of the concept.

While at Book Expo this year- I know it was the librarian’s lunch on the first day- one of the authors speaking talk about how a totally different, famous author once talked about how she talked to and lived with her characters while she was writing her books.  I am about 90% sure the famous author was Maya Angelou since she had just passed away and everyone wanted to remember her in different (and beautiful) ways.  I know the person who said this at the lunch was one of the authors speaking.  I just can’t remember which one.

It’s not really important who said it about who originally said it.  I just hate to not attribute a quote correctly.  I am a librarian.  If you were there and you remember the details, feel free to comment so I can correct things.

ANYWAY

This got me thinking about the characters I write and how well I know them.  I was already preparing for the July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo.  I knew a very simple idea of what I wanted to write.  I knew, like I had done with Pride and Prejudice in April, I wanted to give a modern spin to my other favorite Austen novel: Persuasion.  Like Pride and Prejudice I knew the original, I knew the outline of the story, the major events, the climax, and the basic modern changes I wanted to make.  Unlike with Pride and Prejudice, I didn’t know my characters other than the ones who would inspire them.

See, I do live with my characters.  For the terrible, epic novel that nobody will read (except maybe 1 or 2 people who I trust), I have lived with those characters for most of my life.  In high school these characters started to form in my mind and tell me about themselves.  In college and during the years I was depressed and trying to pull myself out of it, exploring these characters and learning about them kept me going.  I knew I would someday write down all these things I had learned about them.  When I finally did start writing the story they rarely surprised me because I had spent so many years talking to them.

Even when I wrote my version of Pride and Prejudice I had spent three years learning about my characters.  Who was my Lizbeth, my Darcy, and my Whickham?  Three years was long enough for me to simply type out what I already knew about these people.  There were surprises, more than I was use to, but I was happy with them because they helped me understand the characters better.

The more I thought about this, the more worried I got.  I know the original characters of Persuasion very well.  I didn’t want to write a modern version with the original version of these characters.  Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot needed to be more than just transplanted to the 21st century.   On the ride back to Boston from New York, I sat thinking about who my new characters were.  I had one month to figure it out.  I had to reconsider the themes of the original story, the modern changes that needed to be made, and why two people in love, in this century, would not end up together?

By mid-June I was no closer to my answers.  I had some minor story elements, but for the first time I actually talked to someone else.  I allowed my friend Christi’s perspective of the world to influence mine.  I have never done this before.  My characters, until this one, have solely been my own.  They are my friends and I am there confidant.  Why Christi?  Nobody else in my circle of friends love Persuasion as much as Christi.  I can admit she loves the book more than I do.  It took her all of 10 minutes to set me straight and to plant the right seed in my head.

I spent two weeks living with my new characters and even now I can’t say I know them.  Anne Elliot, now renamed Emma, cries a lot.  Fredrick Wentworth is now a writer who copes with the stress of a book tour (and being with Emma) by drinking and getting high.  I have actually learned more about them through writing the story than by thinking about them before I got started.  They are not acting like the original characters acted.  There is a surprise every time I sit down to write.  Things I didn’t even expect.  For example, I realized Fredrick’s side of the story needs to be told.  If my main character is officially unreliable due to depression, grief, willful ignorance, and manipulation then she has missed critical things.  Austen, writing in third person, had the benefit of  being able to pull in Capt. Wentworth’s thoughts when needed.  I did not write this the same way.

I am half way through my modern version of Persuasion as I write this.  I am actually taking a break from the writing to consider things that have happened so far and to think about my characters in light of this new information.  These are conversations in mind with them.  The anchor has been that I know the original story so well.  I know what has to happen.  Come November I won’t have this anchor anymore.  I have written everything I have ever wanted to write in the terrible epic novel.  I wanted to modernize my two favorite Austen novels and I have done that when July is over.

Next November, when I do NaNoWriMo again, is going to be interesting for me as a writer.  I won’t have characters I know better than I know myself.  I won’t have spent years with an original source to help anchor me.  I will be on my own.  I don’t have any idea at this point as to what I will write about.  Yes, it scares me a bit, but it also excites me.  While my characters drive my writing, I don’t think I share enough of them with a potential reader.  I think not knowing my characters so well will make me need to write down more about them so I can learn about them with my readers.

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Knitting Designs: Gradient Blanket

Gradient Blanket

Gradient Blanket

A few months ago one of the members of my writing group had a baby.  I searched for a nice blanket to make for the family, but wasn’t really interested in anything I found.  This led me design my own blanket.

Here is the gradient blanket.  You can see the details of the pattern bellow.  It is a simple design where you increase 1 color while you decrease the other over 15 rows.  I used acrylic yarn to ensure my friend can toss it in the washing machine and not worry about ruining it.

This is the third pattern I designed.  It made me realize, with the change to the blog and losing all those older entries, I should make a page where I keep all my designs.  I don’t design often, but when I do I should make it easier for people to make them.

Download Pattern: Gradient Blanket

See it on Ravelry!

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