Saturday, December 31, 2011

I ran across this cool time lapse video of an artist drawing a picture of Emma Watson.  I am endlessly fascinated by both time lapse images and all things Harry Potter.  This makes me want to learn how to draw!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dan Band - "Ho, Ho, Ho"

Wrong on so many levels, but funny nonetheless.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue VS Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Having just finished reading another disturbing novel based on a crime that seems to be happening more and more frequently, I felt the need to process the icky feelings brought up by these stories.  Even though I can't really say that I enjoyed either of these books, they shine a light on a dark part of our society that begs our attention.  These are books that I believe should be read, but I hesitate to recommend them to my friends.

The following are my reviews of Room and Living Dead Girl, two very different stories of girls who were abducted and imprisoned by men who used them for sex.  Room is adult fiction and Living Dead Girl is young adult fiction.  Anyone who thinks that YA literature isn't worthwhile for adults should consider what C.S. Lewis said about children's books:  "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."

Room by Emma Donoghue  

Unlike many other reviewers who seem to either love or hate this book, I find myself solidly in the middle of these two extremes.  First of all, the subject is an icky one, ripped from an all-too-common lurid headline.  A sicko kidnaps a young girl and imprisons her for years so that he can repeatedly rape and abuse her.  Second, the story is narrated by Jack, a five year old boy whose entire life has been contained in Room, an 11' x 11' space he shares with Ma.  Having a child narrate the story takes a bit of the edge off.  Since Jack's mother protects him from the reality of her situation as best as she can, and he is very young, he doesn't understand that he and Ma are prisoners.  The downside is that we don't get the whole story, simply because Jack can't tell us everything.  I found Jack's voice extremely annoying at first, though he did grow on me as the novel progressed.

Ma has done her best to care for Jack and to provide a happy life for him, despite the limitations of their captivity.  She keeps him busy during the daytime and at night puts him to sleep in Wardrobe, where "Old Nick" won't see him when he visits.  It's hard to know what else to say in a review, as the story is definitely more powerful if allowed to unfold without spoilers.  I'll just say that I was compelled to keep reading, even though the book is not perfect and the subject matter is disturbing.

My review:  THREE STARS

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

"Alice" was abducted by Ray when she was 10 years old. Now 15, she has been his captive for five years. She has been repeatedly brutalized by Ray--raped, starved, threatened, and beaten physically and emotionally until she is nothing but an empty shell, a living dead girl that nobody sees or hears. She knows it's only a matter of time before Ray kills her and finds a new "Alice." But instead, he comes up with a new plan. He wants her to find a new girl for him and then help him train her. 

This is not a happy story. It is horrifying and will haunt you long after you turn the final page. For mature readers only.

My review:  FIVE STARS

In the end, though these stories are based on a similar premise, Living Dead Girl is the one that grabbed me by the throat and kept me riveted from the first line to the last.  The language is spare and beautiful. Room, for me, simply didn't execute as well.  It did eventually draw me in, but felt more gimmicky and lacked the haunting beauty that so enthralled me in Living Dead Girl.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

God Doesn't Believe in Rick Perry

Rick Perry's most recent campaign video is so heinous that I at first thought it was some kind of sick joke.  

Thankfully, America is still a country based on religious freedom.  That means every citizen has the right to believe (or to not believe) in whatever higher power they like.  It does NOT mean that they have the right to shove those beliefs down the throats of others who hold different beliefs.  Being free to practice YOUR religion must include the right for others to practice THEIRS. 

It amazes me that the GOP candidates spend so much time talking about smaller, less invasive government when it comes to regulating corporations, taxing people who make more money every year than most of the world could spend in a lifetime, and protecting our food supply and our environment.  However, when it comes to infringing on personal freedoms, they are all about being up in everybody's business.  Can anyone explain how this makes one bit of sense?

It seems to me that keeping religion out of government is critical to maintaining both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  While a theocratic government might seem like a fine idea to some, believers would do well to consider history (anyone remember the Inquisition?), or even to take a look at the horrors that still occur under the repressive religious regimes in the Middle East.  For an example, check out this article about a young Afghan woman who was raped.  When she reported the rape, she was found guilty of a "moral crime" and put in prison (where she later gave birth to a daughter as a result of the violation).  Sadly, this is not unusual in places where religious leaders make and enforce the laws.  It is hard for me to imagine that even the most rabid Christian fundamentalists REALLY want to live in this type of society.  

To end on a lighter note, take a look at this version of Rick Perry's hate ad, much improved by the satire of Second City.  "Rick Perry may believe in God.  But, judging by his poll numbers, God doesn't believe in Rick Perry."  


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Free Speech Matters to Me

What a treat to run across this video that features several of my favorite authors of young adult literature (and several more who have been added to my TBR list) talking about why free speech matters.  All of these authors have had books challenged and/or banned.  Highlights of the video (for me) include Jacqueline Woodson's comment about teaching kids to write well before encouraging them to try to  silence others, John Green getting bleeped, Heather Brewer's librarian story, and Lev Grossman and Nina LaCour talking about our need to confront ideas that are difficult or that we disagree with.  And my hero, Chris Crutcher.  ALL of his books have been banned somewhere.

As an avid reader and teacher, I am passionate about the power of books to open up whole new worlds.  

When I was a kid, my mom took me to the library every few weeks and I would check out a huge pile of books.  She was sometimes skeptical about my ability to read so many books, but never once stopped me from reading something that caught my interest.  Back in the dark ages when I was a teenager, there wasn't the huge selection of YA literature that there is today.  Even as an elementary and middle school student, I read mainly adult fiction; children's books were too easy and there weren't many other choices.

My first experience with censorship involved Forever by Judy Blume when I was in the sixth grade.  I remember hearing that this book I had never heard of was banned at my middle school.  Anyone caught with it would be in SERIOUS TROUBLE.  I was a good student, a teacher's pet kind of kid, and a voracious reader.  The idea that someone could stop me from reading anything I wanted to read was a huge shock.  The ban awoke a little passive-aggressive monster in me and I immediately went to the public library, checked out the offending book, covered it in brown paper from a grocery store bag...and took it to school.  I read that book cover to cover in a few hours, and then read it again, giggling with my friends over the "good parts."

One could argue that, at 11 years old, I was too young for that particular book.  Perhaps I was.  But I read it and I survived.  Giggling about "Ralph" did not make me sexually active.  I didn't start smoking or doing drugs.  I continued to be (mostly) respectful to my parents and teachers.  I still cared about my grades.  At the time, I found the book more funny and gross than titillating.  Had it not for the school-wide ban, I doubt I would have even picked up Forever.  At that time, I was much more interested in fantasy (thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien for being awesome).  Thanks to the book banners, I discovered a wonderful book that might otherwise have escaped my notice and developed a lifelong fascination with books and authors who aren't afraid to tackle controversial topics.

A few years later, in ninth grade, I ran across a copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman in my school library.  I tried to check it out and the librarian wouldn't let me have it.  I was floored.  Then I went home and saw the book on our bookshelf at home.  So, of course I took it to school and showed it to my friends.  I was quite a little snot about it, smack-talking about the situation, when my friends suddenly got very quiet.   I turned around, only to find myself face to face with the evil librarian.  I looked her right in the eye and said, "Luckily, my mom had this at home, so I can read it anyway."  It was out of character for me, but I took that act of censorship as a personal offense.  I did apologize to the librarian later, but I found it unfair that she was not asked to apologize to me.   

People who want to protect their children from ideas in books may be well-meaning, but in the long-run, they do much more harm than good.  Sooner or later, children grow up and are expected to navigate through a world that is often brutal and cruel and filled with difficult choices.  If we never allow our children to explore difficult or uncomfortable ideas in books, we seriously impair their ability to make good choices about their own lives.  How can our children be expected to make mature decisions when they can't even be trusted to make choices about what to read?  Keeping your own child from reading a particular book is one thing, but banning a book and taking that choice away from EVERYONE'S children is simply wrong.   

Especially in our internet saturated world, where we can find anything, from porn to dirty bomb recipes, censoring books seems kind of pointless.  Instead of trying to take books off of library shelves and out of our children's hands, we should be encouraging them to read as much as they can, and then having open and honest conversations with them.  This is how they will clarify their own ideas about the world and the kind of adults they aspire to be.  This is how they learn to think critically and to make the decisions that they will be called upon to make when they are in charge of running the world, when THEY are responsible for US.

"This is America.  We have the freedom to read here.  We have the freedom to think here....Freedom of speech matters to me.  And it should matter to you, too." --Laurie Halse Anderson

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Don't Nibble on My Gingerbread House

After hearing a friend lament abut the horrors of gingerbread home construction in the company of her children, I happened to see a kit in the grocery store the other day. I don't have any children to "help" me, I'm reasonably creative and educated, and I've got a lot of time on my hands at the moment. So I bought one. How hard can it really be? Ha, ha. You know what's coming next, of course. What is the saying? Oh, I know, "Pride goeth before a fall." Right.

So here is my rant/review/how-to guide for those among you brave enough to tackle a similar project.  Or those of you who just need a good laugh at someone else's expense. 

First, the kit.
I purchased a kit made by Orbit Cookies & Kwik Build for about $15 at my local Safeway. Everything needed was included in the kit, though I am positive that whoever made the model in the photo did not do it only using the one frosting bag included in the kit. I'm pretty sure it's not even possible to create the same level of detail without different-sized pastry tips for the frosting. Or maybe I simply suck at this stuff. Anyway...

Step one: Lay out cookie pieces.
The instructions on the box were laid out step-by-step and were easy to follow, but I did hit one snag right away that made this project extremely difficult. Several of the pieces were broken. I glued them together with the frosting, with limited success, as you will see.

Step two: Prepare the base by filling the openings with frosting.
Notice my LOVELY patch job.

Step three: Begin assembly by squirting a thick line of frosting on the vertical sides of the front and back house pieces. Frosting goes on the back, FYI.
As you can see, the roof pieces were both broken diagonally right down the middle. Shown here is the first patch, which probably would have been successful had I waited longer before attempting to attach to roof. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Step four: Insert front and (one) side panel into the frosting-filled slot in the base. Easy. No, really, it was easy.

Step five: Insert the other side piece, making sure it lines up against the icing on the front piece. Then, slide the back piece into place and squoosh everything together.
Again, easy.

Step six: Squirt frosting all around the top edges to prepare for the roof.
Now, here comes a hard part.

Step seven:   Squirt frosting along the straight edge of one roof piece. Pick up both pieces AT THE SAME TIME and squoosh them into place, forming a peaked roof.
I think this might be difficult even with both pieces unbroken. Of course, my frosting glue didn't hold while I struggled to ease the roof into place and my house appears to have just survived a hurricane or a very large tree falling on it.

Step seven and a half:  Remove roof pieces, scrape off extra frosting and reglue broken pieces with more frosting.  Stand there and hold them for several minutes.  (Swearing might happen at this point, if it hasn't before.  A few choice words made me feel better, even if it did nothing to hold the roof together.)  Let the pieces sit for at least thirty minutes before attempting further construction.  Just walk away.  Trust me.

Step eight:  Repeat step seven with your (hopefully) solid roof pieces.  Once the roof is in place, leave the house alone for at least thirty minutes before decorating.
It looks like crap, but no cave-ins, so we're making progress.

On to the decorating.  This is where this kit fell short, in my opinion.  There were no directions included about how to decorate and only one bag of frosting.  I don't know about you, but I have never used fondant before and had no idea what to do with it.  Thankfully, Auntie Internet gave me some tips.

I started by warming the fondant for 10 seconds in the microwave to soften it.  Then I rolled it out into a very thin layer with a rolling pin.  I cut out the door and window shapes, pictured below.
I dotted just enough frosting on the back of the door to hold it in place while I piped frosting around the edges.  This was extra challenging, as the frosting was cooling and the hole at the tip of the frosting bag was too large for delicate work. 

Adding the windows was even more frustrating, as the frosting kept sticking to itself, especially on the perpendicular lines inside the window. 
The perfectionist in me was screaming, "Throw the whole effing thing out!" at this point.  And any hopes I had entertained about a new career as a pastry chef were pretty much dashed. 

Luckily, decorating the rest was pretty easy (mostly because I completely gave up on trying to make my house look like the one on box).  I had some left over frosting in the fridge, so I used that to cover up the roof, with all its shattered glory.  The rest was more or less glopping frosting around and squishing the candy bits into it.  With my lack of control over the frosting, I skipped the finer details and kind of did my own thing.  Here's the final result of several hours of effort.

Upon reflection, I realize that it is very hard for me to follow the advice that I am constantly giving my students:  Stretch out of your comfort zone, be unafraid of trying new things, and don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake or things don't turn out quite as planned.  In the end, this gingerbread house is quite like me--colorful, a bit random, and messy around the edges.  And, no, I won't be working for that Ace of Cakes guy anytime soon (ever!), but I tried something well out of my comfort zone and it turned out, in the words of my loving husband, "Not that bad."