Stuff I Made

My analog hobby is crocheting. My grandmother taught me when I was in middle school. I have dabbled in other fiber arts and always come back to crocheting. In fact, one of the projects picture below arose out of an aborted attempt to quilt. After ruining one quilting kit and hiring someone to do the next one, I decided to see if I could do something similar with thread crochet. I gave it to my mother. Other items were also gifts except for the gray scarf. It is soft and lovely muted colors so I claimed it for my own and made a pair of fingerless gloves to go along with it.

Crochet Projects

Making a Place for Poetry in My Life

In his essay “A Yeti In the District”, poet Donald Hall describes a life time of trips to Washington, DC. The last one, in 2011, was made so he could receive the National Medal of Arts. He describes the event and the joy it brought him in some detail.

But, as Hall comments at the end of his essay, there was anticlimax. The photo taken of him–an aged wizardly looking man with a big grin on his face–was used by Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post columnist, for a “caption contest” where readers were encouraged to describe the photo. The entries were for the most part rude and derogatory of a man who once served as Poet Laureate and was being recognized for a lifetime of work. Petri was criticized by many for her loutish column but rather than apologizing, she chose to attack Sarah Palin, one of her critics. I know we live in a time when it seems as though everyone is easily offended, but Petri’s treatment of Hall is, in my humble opinion, beyond the pale, one I hope she remembers when her own youthful good looks have fled.

In a sort of ongoing battle with poets and poetry, Petri continued her attack in an article in 2013 about the potential death of poetry after Richard Blanco’s 2013 inaugural poem was widely criticized.

I am determined now, more than ever, to make a place for poetry in my life. It speak to emotions and experiences we cannot otherwise touch.

In a sad note, Hall is no longer able to write poetry, just one of the many diminishments he describes is his Essays After Eighty in which “A Yeti In the District” appears.

My Reading Plan for 2017

My book shelves are overflowing. I indulged my book buying habit freely in 2017, both locally and nationally, with a particularly interesting haul from the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colorado.

Now, it’s time to read. I am not making any promises about not buying any more but at least for now, my reading plans revolve around books already on the shelves. In addition, I want to explore some of the diverse genres that I’ve collected including graphic novels, poetry and essays. Poetry and essays especially seem to demand a different kind of reading: more slowly, over time. Time is needed to explore and savor before moving onto the next piece. While some of this reading will come from my library, others will come from other places. I have an oft-neglected subscription to The New Yorker and have committed to at least an hour or so a week attending to it.

For January, I’ve pulled a few volumes off the shelf:

Kramerbooks

The Donald Hall books came from my buying spree at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle, Washington, DC.

I am going to join the book group at my local library. The book for January is We Never Asked for Wings. I have a copy on my Kindle and suspect I will dive in this weekend.

I’ve begun pulling books together for the rest of 2017 but that’s for another blog post…

 

 

A Prose Poem: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The year is moving right along, and I have finished my first book.

I decided to start with a “challenging” book this year.James Agee and Walker Evans combined stunning words and arresting images to share the lives of cotton tenants in 1936 Alabama.  Let Us Now Praise Famous Men has been on the shelf for awhile. I was not prepared for the flowing prose and was actually considering putting it aside.

I picked this up because it seemed like a good companion to JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy that I read at the end of 2016. It provides some historical context of the culture that Vance describes.

The prose tumbles along, piling up details and impressions, swirling the story into the midst. Sometimes, it made for daunting reading and I would look ahead for the next break. Other times, I found myself in the flow, not worried so much about exact meaning but absorbing impressions as I rode along the natural energy of the words.

The book is, at its core, the story of three families living as cotton tenants in Alabama in 1936. The book has elements of an ethnography with detailed descriptions of homes, clothing, education and work. But Agee weaves in his own musings about his role in the process and his relationships with the families. And then he seems to leave the path altogether and it may take a moment or two or more for the reader to find herself.

For instance, at one point, he took a break from the main narrative to record his angry responses to a survey from The Partisan Review. An odd distraction. Agee is curmudgeonly towards everyone it seems, except Walker Evans and the three families they profile in the book.

Bruce Jackson in the Winter 1999 edition of Antioch Review wrote:

Some critics write about Let Us Now Praise Famous Men as a book out of control, a book that is nearly-great but missed it for this or that reason, a book that suffers from excess. One wrote: “When one first reads Famous Men, many passages may strike one as pretentious, mannered, precious, pompous, pontifical, smug, self-righteous, self-indulgent, willfully obscure, doctrinaire, self-congratulatory, sophomoric, belligerent; even Agee’s self-abnegation, self-loathing, and modesty may offend.”

Yes, but.

And there was definitely a Yes, but, for me. I wanted to wade in this book even as there were times when I thought I would just stop. After all, I wasn’t really reading for a climax or the solution to a mystery. I kept going though and am glad I did.

 

Summer Intentions

I’m participating in the Big Time Literacy blogging challenge and doing some of the posts here and others at my professional blog, In Another Place. The intention board seemed more personal so I’ve shared it here. It was a perfect assignment for yesterday as I’ve had these intentions in my head but had yet to execute, especially the yoga and bike ride. But, by the time I sat down to make the board, I had done both yesterday!

I LOVE my new bike with its basket and bell. And riding a bike gives me a different view of the neighborhood. I stopped to say hello to a gardener about his lovely vegetable patch and waved to a man waiting for a ride. I haven’t been out today: we are in the midst of the first major heat wave so today’s exercise was a long dog walk. Maybe I’ll get on the bike later this evening.

I parked my bike by the garden down front and took a few pictures. My gardens are a labor of love and have taken five years to get where they are. There is always work to be done but for now, the beautiful blossoms cover up the weeds.

And part of the intention is to eat better: we have squash and cucumbers flowing from the garden right now and I should be able to get fresh tomatoes and corn at Saturday’s market.

intention_posterI added the superhero avatar today after spending last night and this morning reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson. I made a donation to the Equal Justice Initiative but I want to do more. It may be letter writing or online advocacy, but I also have a sense that I can do more hands on kinds of work with local kids in areas of coding and robotics. Focus on ways to have a positive future.

Finally, I am just excited about the blogging I’ve done in the past few days!

 

Summer Reading 2016

Cross posted from In One Place at Ivy Run

I really did not plan to blog every day in July, but I got a good start and then discovered the Big Time Blogging Challenge 2016 at the Big Time Literacy blog written by literacy coach Michelle Brezek. I may not always follow her theme for the day but since I just wrote up my reading list, I can follow right along today!

My list is varied: fiction, non-fiction and professional:

I’ll start with what I’ve already read since the beginning of July: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. A classic adventure story with a conflict between good and evil at the heart of the story. The heroine is a 12-year-old girl who discovers her own magic and, with the support of friends and family, saves the day.

I’m a LibraryThing member and am doing a couple challenges. John Steinbeck is the focus of the American Author challenge for July, and I’ll be reading East of Eden and Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, a series of short daily letters the Steinbeck wrote to his editor each day as he wrote the novel. Current events are the focus of the July non-fiction challenge, and I’m doing two books that are part of the One Richmond, One Book initiative at the University of Richmond where I serve as an adjunct professor. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson was last year’s book. This year, it’s Evicted:   Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.

As I prepare for a keynote and workshop about blended learning in early August, I’ll be finishing Go Blended!: A Handbook for Blended Technology in School by Liz Arney and Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools by Michael Horn. The school district I’m working with loaned me a few books they’ve read in past years including The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar.

I’ve been moving VERY slowly through a biography of Marjorie Harris Carr, wife of Archie Carr, the man who started the sea turtle conservation program. Marjorie was an environmentalist in her own right but struggled with the bias against women in science.

Also on the list:

And, I have two boxes of books coming to me that I shipped home from Denver. I can’t list all those titles but I suspect I’ll work a few in.

And…I forgot…I did a digital checkout of The Cracked Spine: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery that is waiting on my Kindle.

Book Spine Poetry

It’s National Poetry Month and I’ve been wandering around my house, stacking books, creating book spine poetry. Maria Popova at Brainpickings has been posting her own poems and credits Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project as her inspiration.

I have several piles but am happy enough with two of them to share them. In each case, the first book is the title.

The first, a story of learning to love:

Untitled

The Awakening

Behind a mask
Love without wings
Onward
Crossing to Safety
Only the River Runs Free

The Books:

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Love Without Wings by Louis Auchincloss
Onward by Howard Schultz
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Only the River Runs Free by Bodie and Brock Thoene

And then a more magical piece:

The Dream Merchants

The Dream Merchants

Winter Street
World’s end
Where wizards stay up late
Drawing down the moon
The Dragons of Eden

The Books:

The Dream Merchants by Harold Robbins
World’s End by Neil Gaiman 
Winter Street by Erin Hildebrand
Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner & Matthew Lyon
Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler
The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan

Book Bingo Update Plus Some Bookstore Tourism

I wrote about Book Bingo over at In Another Place related to gamifying reading.

I filled out my card and have been using it to drive my reading. It’s fun to explore different genres including fantasy (The Graveyard Book), science fiction (Ender’s Game) and alternative history (The Man in the High Castle). I took advantage of the analog AND digital library to find a couple books (The Graveyard Book and The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian) and retired one that’s been around for awhile (Spartina).

I did take time off the bingo card to read The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry, my first Overdrive checkout. The app connects to my Amazon account to get to my Kindle and lets me choose the length of the check out time. It’s interesting that not all of the books in the Cotton Malone series are available electronically. But the next one is already on the shelf at my local branch so I’ll head down there this week.

KramerbooksA conference in Washington, DC, got me to a new bookstore. Kramerbooks is in Dupont Circle and packs a lot of books in two pretty small rooms. Walk through the store to a bar and a lovely cafe. I might be willing to move to the city if I could live around the corner from a spot like this. I came away with a nice pile of interesting reads including Education: A Very Short Introduction by Gary Thomas, part of Oxford’s series of short introductions to lots of topics. I’m proud of myself that I only walked away with one. I’ve mostly stopped by fiction in analog since I read them so quickly. Instead, I added a few others to the library including A History of the World in Twelve Maps and On Dupont Circle, which tells the story of the Roosevelts and their progressive friends who shaped the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s harder to find time to read this time of year: the garden is calling. There’s weeding and culling and moving and mulching, and I like to do a couple hours a day, in smaller chunks of 45 minutes or so. After five years of working on these garden beds, adding perennials and shaping edges, they are coming together nicely, and I’m looking forward to seeing them move through the seasons. The biggest challenge now is dealing with some of the large chunks of daylilies and irises we have in various places. I have spots for them but the digging and hauling have deterred me so far.

 

When You Want the Book

Sometimes you just want the “real” book and this is one of those times. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk is a children’s book that explores the large number of phrases and expressions we inherited from the Bard. Writer Jane Sutcliffe explains the phrases while illustrator John Shelley creates wonderfully detailed visions of London in the 16th century. I could buy the Kindle version and have it right now, but there’s something about this book that makes me want the book itself to hold and explore.

But, then it occurs to me that the Kindle version would allow me to better explore as I can expand the illustrations and move around them. I’ve been reading the Lumberjanes comic books using the Kindle app and it’s fun to be able to dive into the illustrations.

So…maybe I’ll just buy both!

 

The Importance of Keeping Good Records

NB: This post originally appeared on my professional blog, In Another Place. 

I just finished David McCullough’s story of the Wright Brothers and their contributions to the history of flight. It is a biography of sorts, telling the story of the family but focusing on the years when the brothers were developing and demonstrating the plane. Maybe that is less by design and more because by 1910, McCullough notes that they had really “accomplished all they had set out to do.” (p. 253). Wilbur Wright died young, just a few years after the momentous events of the early 1900s. Orville outlived the rest of the family but spent much of his time in bitter disputes over patents and legacy and had a falling out with his sister who had done so much to support the brothers. A sad ending, really.

The legacy seems to be the most important part and continues to be controversial as there is another claimant to the “first to fly” mantle: Gustave Whitehead. His claim had been largely debunked throughout history–McCullough dismisses it in a few sentences–until Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft published an editorial claiming photographic evidence.  I was not prepared for what I found doing some quick Google searches. This is a big fight amongst the aviation community and several states. Gustave has his own website and prominent supporters.

Meanwhile, aviation historian Carroll F. Gray tends to the anti-Whitehead website devoted to questioning all things Whitehead. In a lesson for all inventors, keeping good records is essential. Gray argues that a major reason to support the Wrights’ claim over Whitehead is that there is just more documentation:

Lost in much of the discussion and debate over who was first to fly is the simple fact that the evidence for Gustave Whitehead is extremely thin to non-existent, while the work of the Wrights is evidenced by volumes of notebooks, numerous diaries, piles of photographs and reams of letters. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that those who believe that Whitehead actually flew sustain themselves on “a hope and a prayer” — faith in that supposed fact — because the absolute proof of that claim is nowhere to be found.

Finally, there’s a humorous political aspect to all this. Based on that one editorial in the aviation magazine, Connecticut legislators decided to declare Connecticut the birth place of aviation and put all their support behind Whitehead. North Carolina and Ohio, states that have often fought over the brothers, now joined forces with both states passing their own resolutions against Connecticut’s claim.

I think this might make an interesting conversation in a history class or makerspace about keeping historical records and how innovation happens. No one can seem to determine if the brothers knew about Whitehead who, even if he didn’t fly, did some inventing and tinkering around planes and the idea of a flying car.