Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Doin' the Puyallup

After weeks of plotting and planning, my daughter and two friends were thrilled to be on their way at last to the Puyallup Fair.

Getting them there and then letting them go was our parental task. We watched our daughter stride off with her friends, tethered to us only by hourly texts to check in, feeling somewhat relieved as well as wistful; wasn't it just yesterday that we escorted her around the fair, bought her cotton candy, and took turns going on all the rides with her?

For several hours, then, it was just us two wandering around aimlessly, taking in all the sights you expect at a fair: booths offering neon-colored slush drinks, Krusty Pups, elephant ears, deep-fried Twinkies, and cotton candy; hawkers trying to sell you on the latest and greatest (they really do still say things like "You have to see this product to believe it!"); big kids staggering under the weight of huge plush monkeys and other prizes won in games; and best of all...

The Animals.

The beef and dairy cattle had already gone home, as it was the last day of the fair, and we somehow missed the poultry, rabbit, and pig barns, but we did get to see the sheep, all dressed up in their fleece-protecting coats that make them look like superheroes.

Most of the 4-H horses had gone home as well, but not the beautiful gentle giants, the draft horses.



A Clydesdale's spats and feathers

The slap and jingle of all the shining harness, together with the measured
thumping of all those hooves, is a glorious sound.

The fair boasted what it called "Animals of the World," which mostly consisted of rare breeds of livestock with a camel and a tame zebra thrown in. What's a fair without a little bit of hype?

The llama's technique.
Spot the mule.
A zeedonk--love the stripy ears!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Blogs, Hogs, and Children's Books

On any typical day I am to be found toiling in obscurity in my home office, so it was a great pleasure to step out last weekend and head downtown for a conference and to mingle with real, live people in a bustling hotel, all in an atmosphere of books, books, books.

The event was a convention called KidLitCon, a gathering of people who blog about children's literature and review books; it also included a number of authors, some of whom were there to present to attendees.

I was one of the authors encouraged to introduce myself and some of my books in a 90-seconds-or-fewer time slot on the event's first night in a version of "speed dating." I will gently Draw A Veil over this 90 seconds, as standing up in front of a crowd to speak is not high on my list of abilities; I tend to transform into the answer of the riddle "What do you get when you cross Ratso Rizzo with a deer in the headlights?" But it was delightful to listen to the other presentations and to have the opportunity to chit-chat afterward.

Scott Westerfeld
Highlights of the event included a bright-and-early Saturday presentation by Scott Westerfeld, author of the acclaimed Uglies series, among others. With wonderful wit and self-deprecating humor, Westerfeld transported us back to the late 1800s and the heyday of illustrated newspaper serializations and novels, sharing images of the intricately rendered engravings that embellished these works.

Such illustrations, once commonplace, largely disappeared from works published for older readers and adults--an evolution he views as a great loss (a dismay that resonates with me, as I cherish finding old books with tipped-in illustrations in thrift stores and at yard sales). Fortunately, illustrations have made a resurgence, and Westerfeld's own Leviathan series features beautiful artwork that is thoroughly modern even as it bows respectfully to its ancestors.

His talk was further enlivened by stories about how author and artist worked together to bring the mutant mechanized animals to life (bringing to light such marvelous real-life inventions as a four-legged walking machine built to meander through French vineyards a century ago) and the interesting history of how the deerstalker hat came to be the symbol of detective fiction (despite Holmes never actually donning one in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles's books). And how, whenever Westerfeld runs into a roadblock in his narrative, he just has his characters "jump off stuff."

Salty Dog and his creator, Richard Jesse Watson
Illustrator Richard Jesse Watson (The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake and others) counterbalanced this fast-paced, futuristic presentation with a quiet oasis of a talk, in which he shared musings on poetry, nature, creativity, and the lyrical side of blogging. His celebration of creativity and the human spirit was both inspiring and calming. And it was where the hogs in this blog entry title come in: He started off by sharing three random--and very funny--stories about pigs, including one on a leash that attended one of his book signings and another that was being carried in a Baby Bjorn on its human "parent's" chest.

Other presentations I attended focused on marketing books in the post-Twilight era; how to write a critical book review; issues involving "political correctness" and diversity in YA books; and book apps--the good, the bad, and the ugly as well as the simply misguided--and how such apps should never leave the story  to run off on an unrelated tangent (which is the problem with the weakest of them).

Oh, and there was mingling, too. I'm about as bad at mingling as I am at marketing, but I did enjoy some lovely conversations with people such as Helen Landalf, whose novel Flyaway will be published in December 2011; Michelle Dunphy, a voice actor who reviews YA books; and even a little chat with Nancy White Carlstrom, who slipped in to sign copies of her charming book Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? that were available on the sales table provided by one of my favorite bookstores, The Secret Garden.

(I am sorry to say that I was giddy enough to say something as obvious as "Are you Nancy White Carlstrom?" when I found myself standing next to her; bless her heart, she was too gracious to respond by asking, well, just why else would I be signing these books? Fortunately, when I brought a book to Scott Westerfeld for his signature, I was too speechless to say much beyond the lame "My daughter absolutely loves your books"...however, my cliche-ocity was mitigated by my daughter's gasp of delight when I gave her the book upon my return home; she ran her finger over her name on the title page, slowly saying, "He. Wrote. My. Name!!!")

As with all good conferences, it wasn't just the mind that was sated--there was also excellent food and a bottomless supply of coffee. And the sheer delight of milling about in a hotel lobby pretending that one never had to clean gutters or catboxes and simply spent all one's time milling about in hotel lobbies.

I hadn't been to the Hotel Monaco in ages--the last time I was there, it was to dine with my friend R----, an Australian travel writer. (That's another thing I love about old novels in addition to engraved illustrations--haven't you always wondered what was being left out when you read an old book that included lines such as "When R---- arrived from -----shire, in the year 18--"...?)

The only dismaying thing was encountering this sign on a hallway downstairs--I ask you, where is a Sharpie when you need to write an apostrophe on the wall?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Much Does a Children's Book Weigh?

The Elephant Book by Ed Powers
image courtesy Eric Sturdevant
How much does a children's book weigh?

I know, I know--you're thinking, "What a stupid question." Because books come in many sizes and even shapes. Because different books have different numbers of pages. Because some have hard covers and others are paperbacks.

And if you read a children's book on a Kindle or a Nook, well--hey, then any book of any size weighs virtually nothing if you don't count the hardware that supports it, right?

But somebody out in the web-wide world found my little old blog by typing in that very question. Sometimes when I am putting off tasks, I look in the "statistics" area of the blog to amuse myself, and that is how I found out that somebody needed to know this.

One easy way to find out how much a children's book weighs, of course, is to put one on a food scale.

Another is to look up books on Amazon and see how much they weigh. That's how I learned that a typical paperback copy of The Black Stallion by Walter Farley weighs 5.6 ounces.

Which is about as much as a small pocket camera, some Blackberries, a mourning dove, a cricket ball, or a plastic two-person wedding-cake topper.

I think the question about the weight of a children's book gets way cooler if you decide to find out "How much does the biggest children's book weigh" instead.

So I Googled to find out what the world's largest children's book would be, because I don't have a copy of a current Guinness book of records on hand.

The record-holder, as far as I can tell, would be this book:

It's called The Dream-Plucker of Perrysport. It was published by the Carnival cruise-ship company. It measures 15 feet, 6 inches by 20 feet. Definitely too big to put in your backpack--it's large enough to be a nice parking spot for a car.

A kind person at Carnival answered my question about its weight: the big book weighs about 125 pounds. That's about as much as a female St. Bernard dog, though it won't come when called or lick you. So this book is definitely not light reading. However, Carnival did sell smaller copies of the book on its ships to help raise money for a hospital called St. Jude's.

Unless somewhere there's a children's book made of solid lead, this book is probably the heaviest children's book in the world. Which leads to the question, what's the lightest one?

"Lightest" leads to "smallest," and one of the smallest is a little puff of dust currently held in the Library of Congress, which reports that its smallest book is a copy of "Old King Cole" that measures just 1 square millimeter (.04 inches). That's about the size of the period in this sentence.     < --- Yes, that one.

Not this one:

You need to use a needle to turn its pages while looking at it through a magnifying glass. Its weight is not provided. At right is a picture of a copy held by a Welsh library (borrowed from the library's website).

Another source suggests, however, that this gnat-sized book is enormous compared to The World's Smallest Book, a tiny leather-bound book published in Germany that rests inside a wooden box. It is a mere 2.4 mm by 2.9 mm.

Now, I am not a math whiz, but I am pretty sure that 1 mm is smaller than 2.4 mm. I know that sounds wacky, but there you go.

At left is that tiny tome perched on a matchstick, because it is often described by comparing it to a matchhead instead of a period. You can buy it on Amazon for less than a thousand dollars (normal-sized ones). The shipping weight is given as 6.6 ounces, but much of that consists of the mahogany box and enclosed magnifying glass.

At any rate, apparently a gold-and-silk-bound copy of Chekhov's Chameleon, measuring .9 mm square, has them both beat. It's described as being about the size of a grain of salt. But it's not a children's book.

However, weight becomes immaterial in the case of the lightest book, since as of 2007 there exists a book so small you need an electron microscope to read it. Physicists at Simon Fraser University "published" the .07 mm x .10 mm book Teeny Ted from Turnip Town by focusing a "gallium-ion beam" on tiny "pages" made of crystalline silicon.

Well, if you go off into outer space, any book you read will instantly be a contender for the (out of this) world's lightest book, since you'd be reading it in the weightlessness of near-zero gravity.

I don't have room in my house for the heaviest book, and the lightest/smallest ones would get lost in all the clutter, so this is all moot, anyway. But thanks to the question discovered in my stats while procrastinating, I have managed to procrastinate even longer by trying to answer it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Living Off the Land (or Not, As the Case May Be)

Ahh, this picture of the garden's gifts may make it appear that I am Demeter,
Goddess of Farming, herself, but pictures can be deceiving. If you shove
enough of what you harvest into the picture frame, you too can look like
you run a successful organic family farm.
We just finished a record-breaking streak of warm September weather here in Seattle (9 days that hit 80 degrees or more), but there's no denying that autumn's lurking (OK by me, as autumn is my favorite season--not that I have a choice about it arriving or not).

One of the autumnal signs is an email from the P-Patch people reminding us that it's time to think about winterizing plots--mulching, planting winter crops, and putting in cover crops.

Which means, of course, that one has presumably brought in the harvest, yes? And that once again I confront the evidence of just how hungry my family would be if we ever tried to survive on the bounty of our garden.

The scorecard:

Strawberries: 3 berries, total.
Black raspberries: Several sour, seedy, super-staining handfuls.
Peas: 1.5 cups, after shelling. Sufficed to round out one meal.
Chard: Bolted early in season. Several cups of chopped leaves flavored some meals.
Collards: Always a hit--a few pounds of leaves, blanched and reduced to a one-gallon freezer bag.
Zucchini: 3 or 4 pounds of mini-banana-sized fruits, after problem of squash-end blossom rot was resolved by steady watering and an application of epsom salts.
Red cabbage: So far, one large, rotund head and one tennis-ball-sized specimen; others still growing.
Green cabbage: Pretty much a crop of baseball-sized lumps stuffed with slugs--really just Escargot-in-the-Round.
Tomatoes: Damp, cloudy, chilly July meant late tomato production, yielding a few pounds of small but succulent fruits.
Rhubarb: First-year plants thriving, but can't pick any stems yet.
Potatoes: Haven't unearthed them yet. Cliffhanger--will they be marvelous or will they be mushy, rotten blobs?

So. I've planted some chard and Brussels sprouts in the faint hope that some winter crops will grow, and have two raspberry bushes ready to plant, one of which has already suffered badly in the heat wave, which of course is a really encouraging sign that we'll be able to grow, perhaps, two weeks' worth of food next year instead of just one week's.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Farewell to Summer (Not)

When the calendar slips past Labor Day, the school calendar arrives in the mail, and the buses turn yellow, summer (emotionally) is over.

But seasonally, it's still going strong, and the week ahead beckons with some of the best weather of the year.

Clear blue skies!

Temps in the 80s!

No humidity!

And ripe beaches fairly tumbling out of baskets at the market!

Perhaps there's something to be said for delayed summer weather after all, although I wouldn't have thought so during chilly, damp July.

We made sure to take advantage of it over the holiday weekend, just in case it's really summer's last fling and the meteorologists are pulling a prank on us.

We rented a canoe at the Waterfront Activities Center near Husky Stadium and
paddled around under the overpasses and the waterways near the arboretum. Lots
of lily pads, ducks, and lovely great blue herons like this one. There were three of
us in the canoe so it was riding pretty low and we nearly bottomed out on some
muck in one spot, but we still survived this family outing with only minimal bickering.

My daughter had her first lesson in jumping at a local stable, a beautiful place
that was neat as a pin and home to about half a dozen beautiful, well-kept,
contented horses who all had large loose boxes with open windows.
Sunsets have been spectacular recently, enhanced in part by forest fires over on
the Olympic Peninsula.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Every Dog Has Her Day

"No fair," we kids occasionally insisted when the calendar showed that Mother's Day or Father's Day was next on the holiday roll. "Why isn't there a Children's Day?"

My mom always wisely responded with the answer they must give out to all moms in the obstetric ward in a top-secret parenting bible, because all moms give the same answer to this demand: "Because every day is Children's Day."

I'm still not so sure about that, but I do know that for canines living in prosperous, pet-loving nations, just about every day is indeed Dog's Day. And a camping vacation has got to be the gravy on the kibble. Our lovely Labrador Luna definitely enjoyed her time camping on Lopez Island and Orcas Island.

My daughter decided that if Luna could write and send postcards (she could at least do a fab job licking the stamps), they would all say, "Having a great time. Ate part of a dead fish. Licked ants off my backside. Wish you were here."

"Shhh. Be vewwy quiet. I'm hunting wabbits."
"Pause: We are now entering the Hall of Squirrels."
If Luna had Jedi powers, the intensity of her squirrel-fixing gaze would surely
airlift the rodents from their treetop abodes right into her jaws.
Luna's a pretty clean dog at home, so she got to indulge in being a dirty one on
vacation. Came home with a coat packed with sand and dust and stippled with
patches of Douglas-fir resin and marshmallow.
Good dog that she is, Luna takes care to read the Rules for Dogs before
entering the grounds at the Lopez Farmer's Market.
And there's always time for a good book.