Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Nook - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children written by Ransom Riggs:

This is a creepy novel in which you, the reader, will encounter monsters, a deserted house with a scary basement and dead people that can tell you the identity of their murderer.  Perfect Halloween reading!

I really liked this book a lot, and devoured it in a day or so.  This is the story of Jacob Portman, a well-to-do teenager with only one friend and a Grandpa who tells him ghost stories.  One day Grandpa Portman calls Jacob in a panic - where is the key to the gun cabinet?  How could they all leave me so defenseless?  And don't, whatever you do, come to check up on me because you will be in mortal danger!

So, of course Jacob goes to Grandpa's to check on him, and there he learns that the stories that he has been told all his life were not fictitious.  Grandpa's dying words are a puzzle to Jacob, until he is given a book for his birthday that unlocks the mystery and shows him the path he should take.  This path leads to an island off the coast of Wales, and Jacob goes there to search for the peculiar children of Grandpa's youth and their headmistress, Miss Peregrine.....although, shouldn't these "children" all be in their eighties, at least?

The plot in the story moves along at a perfect pace.  Nothing feels stagnant here, and the reader is given just enough information to keep interested and curious without spoiling any of the many surprises in the story.  I really liked the characters too - the children from a bygone era all seemed very real, and Jacob is a very easy to relate to.  The character of Jacob's father changes a great deal on their journey, but I don't think it was too much of a stretch.

The visual images from this story are wonderful.  I can absolutely picture myself in that old dilapidated house, cringing that I must head to the basement to retrieve the chest that just fell through the worn-out floor.  I can see  Jacob's trip through the bog, and the ancient cairn, and experience the stormy weather on one side, and the bright streaming sun on the other.  But the author does more than just provide a rich visual experience through words: there are also quirky, real vintage photos in which he has written the story around.  These vintage photos are supposed to depict the peculiar children and their many talents.  This is a really unique way of presenting a story (at least to adults) and I can't help but admire the author's creativity and means of coming up with his work.  One of the pictures, for instance, is a silhouette of a woman smoking a pipe.  In the story, we are told that this is Miss Peregrine (but, of course, it's a real-life picture of someone smoking a pipe).  Some of these vintage pictures are very creepy, like the clown kids pulling ribbons out of their mouths.  And some are not creepy in any way, but are used to that effect (like the picture of a little girl with an adult shadow, and we are told in the story that the shadow is a monster about to get her).

Of course, Ransom Riggs' intelligent descriptive language is to thank for a lot of the story's visual imagery.  When Jacob and his new friends run into a lean-to, the author writes, "...its walls made from rough-cut planks, rain weeping through where they had shivered apart like bad teeth." (pg 284).  I realized as I approached the end of the book that the story was not going to get wrapped up in time......and the ending is very open, as Jacob and the peculiar children set off on a new journey.  If there is a sequel, I'm definitely interested in reading it.

Ransom Riggs uses a lot of tricks (interesting characters, intriguing plot, visual imagery through descriptions and vintage photos) to come up with this treat of a novel!  Happy Halloween!


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Annual Metro Parks photo contest

I'm happy to announce that my DD, age 6, won 3rd place in the children's category in the annual Columbus Metro Parks photo contest!  Her shot was of Queen Anne's lace, taken at my SIL's pond.  I was at the judging, and the judges commented that her shot was very sharp, a fact that she has been repeating to anyone who will listen.  She's very proud of her achievement, as are we all in the Bach family.  I think we have a budding photographer on our hands (yay - a good excuse for more equipment)!

Here she is, proudly gazing at her ribbon:

For the record, she took the picture all by herself - no help from her photog-loving Mama!  I threw the camera into auto, but she selected the subject, crop, etc. all on her own.  In fact, I was off at another spot by the pond, so she really did make all the decisions about the shot.  I'm so proud of her!

I also entered the contest and got a 2nd place ribbon in the black & white category:

My shot is of a trio of spiderwebs, taken one morning after the spiders had been busy.  In fact, my DD looked out her window that morning and exclaimed that is was a spider family reunion!

All the entries in the contest (232 total) will be on display this weekend at Highbanks Metro Park, and then also the following weekend at Blacklick Woods.  If you live in the Columbus area, check it out (here's the link to their website for directions and information about the parks).

Yes, I foresee many more requests to borrow my camera at this point!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Nook - The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brian Selznick:

When The Invention of Hugo Cabret was announced as the winner of the Caldecott Award in 2008, I remember there being a lot of buzz about it, because this book is so very different from the picture books that usually win the award.  The book is huge, ending at page 525 and is a complex novel as well as pictures that help move the story along.  So, yes, very different from a picture book, but just as worthy of its accolades.

To summarize the story, Hugo is a young boy, orphaned and living in a train station in Paris in the early 1930s.  His father was a clockmaker who tragically died in a fire.  Hugo's alcoholic uncle brings him to live in the train station with him, as his clock-worker apprentice.  But then one day, the uncle never returns home and Hugo must maintain the station clocks by himself for fear of being discovered and sent to an orphanage (which, really, might not be a bad solution to his problem).  The plot is very complex for the age level the book is geared towards (9-12 year-olds), but I think readers of any age will appreciate that it moves quickly.   In the story, we meet the toy shop keeper and his daughter, a man with a patch over his eye, and an automaton, a machine that looks like a man, that Hugo's father, before his death, was trying to fix in order to discover what message it would write.

For me, the highlight of the book is the artwork.  The drawings were done in pencil on watercolor paper.  It's amazing how much depth and detail the author/illustrator is able to achieve with such limited tools.  And considering the number of illustrations in the story, this was no small feat.  I really love the beginning of the book, in which there is a picture of the moon.  Then the moon gets smaller.  Then smaller.  As the moon gets smaller, we get more detail: the Parisian skyline.  The farther away we get, the more detail we get......what a great concept!   While I enjoyed the story, I think the real strength of the novel are the illustrations.  It's really a pleasure just to flip through the book, without even reading the story, and just enjoy the beautiful artwork.

I know it's a minor point, but the title strikes me as being off.  Hugo doesn't actually invent anything.  He fixes the automaton, but that's different than inventing.  Unless I missed that detail somewhere in the story, I think a different title would have better served the book.

I read the book on CD, but if you do that, make sure you also have a hard copy of the book on hand so that you can look through all the illustrations along with the story.  It would be a shame to miss out on the visual aspect of this novel....that's the real star of this show.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

The OEC Green Gala

I just got back from the the OEC Green Gala, their annual dinner and awards ceremony.  I was invited to attend because two of my pictures made runner up in their annual photo contest.

The awards ceremony was really interesting, with awards ranging from lifetime environmental achievement to a "one-to-watch" winner.  An environmental-law dream team, a journalist and a concerned parent were among some of the winners of the various awards.  One award that moved me was the youth & education award, given to an 11-year-old named Erek Hansen, a recycling crusader in Toledo, Ohio.  Thanks to Erek, thousands of blue jeans have been recycled for use as housing insulation.  And he has turned his attention to recycling shoes as well, saving thousands of pairs from landfills.  Check out his website, Eco Erek.  Congrats to Erek, and all the others who work so hard for our environment.  Your efforts are greatly appreciated!

All the entries in the photo contest were displayed in the room - here's a shot of mine:

In addition to the awards ceremony and dinner, they had a silent auction to benefit the OEC.  Here's my other entry (the blue dasher dragonfly), framed and ready for bids:

I really hope both of my prints sold in the auction - I would love for my photography to help out the OEC and the great environmental work they do.

Being around so many people who care for and fight for the environment was very inspiring!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paths to creativity

I've been thinking about creativity a lot lately, as I'm trying to focus on my creative endeavors (like knitting and photography).  And I've been noticing when I have my best ideas and what stimulates my creativity.  So, here's my Top-10 list of things that (in my opinion) can stir the creative juices:

1.  Get a boring, monotonous task
I know this doesn't sound very exciting, but there is nothing like it to free your mind.  For me, it's doing the dishes (a task that is always present).  When DH and I owned a retail bakery in the town where we live, I would slice loaf after loaf of bread, during which I would have some of my best creative revelations.  The idea is to do something monotonous, where your hands are busy, and your mind is free to think.

2.  Rent vs. own
For the last 3 summers, I've rented a lens from Lens Rentals (I highly recommend them, by the way).  I've found that having the lens for a short period of time really energizes me, forcing me to get out there and use the lens to the max.  And being able to rent different lenses has given my photography a creative nudge, letting me try different styles.  I think if you buy a lens (which I would love to do, don't get me wrong) it could be easier to take it for granted and shelve it when you don't feel like shooting.

There are other situations where renting might be just the thing to help creativity, not just in photography.  I can't help but think about the amount of time and money and energy people spend on maintaining their houses.  Perhaps if more people rented (or lived in a maintenance-free condo, for instance) they could spend their energy on something that might be more inspiring than cutting the grass (like travel, for instance).  Then again, cutting the grass can be the boring, monotonous task to get your brain thinking creative thoughts (see #1, above).

3.  Take notes
I try to jot down all my knitting & photography ideas, so that I have a place to keep all my ideas (and as a way to remember them).  I find that as I look at some of the ideas I've written down, I feel re-inspired to do them, or make small changes to improve the original idea.

4.  Turn off the TV
I think television can be a great way of relaxing after a long day & a source of entertainment (although I don't watch TV now, I used to before we had the Bachsters).  But TV has a way of draining you of creativity, so that all you do is sit and watch, not ponder & create.  I think it's even disruptive as background noise.  In my experience, quiet is best, so that your brain can get to its job of thinking creative thoughts!

5.  Visit websites/blogs that inspire you
Like this one, hopefully!  I visit a few sites almost daily, sites that get me thinking and inspire creativity.  One site that I love is What Katie Ate - I always feel excited to try new things with my photography or cooking after I visit her site.

6.  Hang out in your backyard
This summer, it was difficult to get out to photoshoot, with 3 kids wanting to go to the pool and a new puppy that needed to go out.  So, I just explored our backyard, taking my camera with me whenever I went out with Ranger.  Every day, I would check on the orchard spiders who made their homes in a big bush on the side of our house.  It's a good thing to get to know a small area well, allowing you to take notice of small changes.  I can't help but think about Claude Monet and his garden at Giverny.  And I think you'd be hard pressed to find an artist that wasn't/isn't inspired by nature, even if it's in a small way.  So, get outside - you don't have to go far!

7.  Read
I know, this is my answer to just about everything!  But seriously, if you can't find inspiration at the library, where can you find it?

8.  Start small
Whatever your "art" don't attempt a masterpiece at first.  Just have fun with it & let your creativity take you wherever it wants.  Nothing squashes creative thought like pressure.

9.  Get your ducks in a row
If you are at a spot in your life where something is off (like a job that you dislike, a roommate you can't tolerate) then your creativity is going to suffer (at least for me - others might thrive against adversity).  Change your life for the better & your mind can relax & be open to creative thought instead of being busy thinking about negative things.

10.  Have a kid.  Or two.  Or three.....
When our first Bachster was born, it was like a to-the-core creative awakening for me.  I wanted pass down to her something that I had made, something that I spent my time perfecting, just for her.  Something that showed how much I loved her.  This is when I learned to knit, and my first project (after the obligatory garter stitch scarf) was her baby blanket.  And ever since then, they continue to inspire me, to challenge me to lead the creative life I want.  They encourage me in my endeavors.  It's hard to put words to, really, how these 3 little people have changed my life so much, and helped me become a better person.....and a creative individual.

  (This is a really old pic of the Bachsters, from 2008)

What inspires you?  How do you find creativity?  Let me know! 


Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Nook - Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking written by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child:

First, I should tell you that I've never read Pippi until recently, when the Bachsters and I read it together.  So, I don't have the experience of discovering this character though a child's eyes; I had to experience that vicariously through my kiddos.  And I think one of the things that makes Pippi a beloved, timeless character is that she is definitely for kids.  She's like a little-girl-with-red-pigtails superhero.

Pippi's mother has died and her father has disappeared at sea, and she lives alone in her house called Villa Villekulla (best name for a house.....ever).  She actually doesn't live all alone, as she has a pet monkey named Mr. Nilsson and a pet horse.  Tommy and Annika are her next door neighbors and they love to visit Pippi, for there is always something fun & exciting happening.

A parent's perspective:
While Pippi is spirited and vivacious, she also has a bit of a death wish.  Honestly.....tussling with a big group of bullies.  Jumping off a cliff to "fly."  Taking on a furious bull.  Dancing with burglars.  The girl has no sense of self preservation (on the flip side to this, she is abnormally strong, so maybe she just knows her own strength).

A child's perspective:
The Bachsters laughed throughout the story at all of Pippi's hijinks.  Sometimes, they rolled their eyes and said, "oh, Pippi!"  But they loved every minute of it, because as I mentioned, this book is strictly for kids.  Pippi gets to do what kids all want to do, like show bullies a lesson, or go straight up to the haunted attic and not be afraid of the ghosts.  Or always get her way with grown-ups and get to eat pancakes a lot.  It's really the same idea as Superman or Batman or any superhero: we are living out a fantasy through them, and we can't be too bothered with the reality of it all. 

With that in mind, some parents might need to caution (continuously) when reading this book to their kids ("now you know you should listen to police officers and do as they ask," for example).  But the trade-off is well worth it, because Pippi is such an enjoyable book with a memorable, one-of-a-kind protagonist.  And while Pippi does many things that might make parents cringe, there is are valuable lessons learned in her adventures, like self-esteem, confidence & independence.

Honestly, one thing I disliked about the book was the attitude towards education.  Pippi says, "I've been fine for nine years without any pluttification tables."  The feeling that the reader is left with is that education is not necessary (the teacher gives up on her and tells her she can come back one day, when she is older and better behaved, if she wishes).  And that's it: she tried one day to go to school, interrupted class repeatedly, left and that's the last of her education that the reader sees.  I know Pippi is supposed to be a free spirit, but I think it would have been cool if she was an educated free spirit.  And there's also a part at the end of the book where Pippi finds her father's old pistols and shoots a hole in the ceiling.  You can see how this won't really translate to modern parents' views.  However, with this (and the education issue), it's important to remember that Pippi is a superhero - what kid wouldn't like to live in a fantasy world of no school and running around, pretending to be a pirate, if just for a short time?  The key here is that it just can't be taken too seriously!

We all loved this version of Pippi illustrated by Lauren Child, who also created the very fun Charlie and Lola.  If you're familiar with her work on those stories (also turned into a show), you can definitely see the similarities between Pippi and Lola.  Both live in their own little world and have a clever way of handling any problems that come their way.  I wouldn't mind checking out some of the other versions of Pippi, though,  because I read that this version's translation can differ from some of the others.

Check out Pippi - your perspective may be different from your child's, but everyone will find something to love about this unique character in literature.  Tiddly-pom and piddly-dee!


Friday, October 14, 2011

The Apple Orchard

Out of the blue one day, our 6-year-old said she wanted to go apple picking.  It sounded like a good idea, so when Central Ohio had summer-like weather last weekend, we couldn't resist our chance to head out to the apple orchard.  We went to Lynd's Fruit Farm, where they had their Suncrisp and Melrose apple orchards open for picking.  Here are some pictures from our day (the Suncrisp apples are the yellow ones, the Melrose are red - we picked a bit of both):

And what, you may ask, did we do with all of our apples?  Check back for a future post on all the homemade goodies we've been making with them!

Are you doing any fun Fall activities - apple picking or otherwise - this weekend?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

One last trip to my LYS

As I mentioned in my last post, my local yarn store is closing.  I couldn't resist going in today, one last time, to take advantage of the closeout sale, and also let Little Dude play in the toy corner they have set up for kids.  Whenever I take the kids shopping for yarn, they always ask if we're going to the store with the toys!

I purchased 2 skeins of this super-soft baby alpaca by Plymouth.  I've always snuggled it whenever I've been in to the shop, but I could never figure out a project to make with it.  After some searching on Ravelry, I found someone who had made this project from Knitty with the same yarn.  It looks a bit beyond my current skill level, but I'd like to give it a try, with the gray.  Or, maybe something similar, like a light & airy scarf.  With the black, I'm going to use it for a knitted jewelry design that I came up with a long time ago.  I hope it works!

I also added yet another skein to my Cascade 220 stash, this time in a hunter green.  I just got the book The Knitter's Year by Debbie Bliss from the library & there is a really cute Christmas tree ornament pattern in it.  I think this 220 would be perfect.  What cute gift toppers a little knitted Christmas tree would be!

And, finally, I had to get one more ball of my "maiden name yarn."  This one goes to my parents, just for the fun of it:

And now, I'd better get queue is getting out of control!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My LYS is closing!

I was so sad to see "going out of business" signs on the windows of my LYS as I drove by yesterday.  I know it must be hard for small yarn shops to compete against the big internet stores these days, and I'm sorry to see it's affected the only shop on this end of town. 

I went in today, and the owner told me she is consolidating her two stores into one, and keeping the one (on the other end of town) open.  So that's a least she isn't out of a job!

Of course, I had to take advantage of the closeout sale they're having!  I bought 2 skeins of Cascade 220 in a navy blue & light gray.  What knitter couldn't use a little more 220 in her stash?  I want to knit a vest for Little Dude & these colors really compliment the ones I already have.  I'm excited to start on it!

I also purchased this little cutie, simply because the name of the yarn happens to be my maiden name!  I have no idea what I'll make with it, or maybe I'll just keep it & enjoy the novelty of it:

Hmmmm....I'm considering going back before the owner closes the doors at the end of the week to get a few more things I saw today.  A fingering weight alpaca that was so heavenly....Mission Falls superwash merino (even though it's been discontinued)....sock yarn!


Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Nook - From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler written by E.L. Konigsburg:

Recently, I've tried reading 3 modern, adult books of fiction that sounded very promising, but ended up being terrible.  One of the books (I won't name any names!) had lines like, "so-and-so really liked living here."  Yes, profound writing, indeed!  So, after returning 3 novels, all unfinished, promptly to the library, I decided to redirect my reading strategy and try something a little older, for folks a little younger, and something that won a Newbery Award in 1968 (this is the icing on the cake, so to speak).  I'm happy to say that this book was thoroughly enjoyable and went back to the library after completion, though reluctantly.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is the story of Claudia, a 6th grader who decides to run away from home.  Or, as she explains, she's not running away, but rather running to something.  That place ends up being the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  She decides to include her younger brother, Jamie, in her scheme, since he has a piggy bank full of money!

Claudia is a planner, so she plots their escape and instructs Jamie on how to keep it a secret (in a funny scene, Jamie decides it best to eat the note from Claudia with their plans written on it).  After hiding out in the back of their school bus, the pair sets off for a train ride into the city.  Once there, Jamie, the financial department of the operation, insists they walk all the way to the museum instead of spending any of their limited funds on a bus or (gasp!) a taxi.

Once at the museum, the reader is treated to the details of their logistics (how do two school-age children  live at the museum without being discovered?) as well as the descriptions of all the rooms and exhibits that the children encounter.  Claudia insists that they spend their time learning everything at the museum.  However, a short time after they "move in", they explore the Italian Renaissance wing.  While there, a huge crowd is gathered around a small statue of an angel.  Claudia & Jamie set out to find out what all the fuss is about and learn that the statue was sold to the museum for a mere $250.......and it is possibly an original work of Michelangelo.

At this point, the story takes a shift, as our two runaways devote all their time trying to solve the mystery of "Angel."  Their sleuthing takes them all the way to the home of the seller of the statue, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  It is here that they make discoveries about the statue, and Claudia makes a discovery about herself.

As you can see, there is a lot happening in the story and the pace moves along at a good speed.  I loved how Claudia and Jamie interacted in the story - they fought like real siblings, and also had touching moments (it's also cute how Jamie calls her "Claude" all the time).  Claudia is the leader, but Jamie is an equal partner and exerts his opinion often, and exerts his authority over issues of money.

At first, I was going to read the book with the Bachsters, but I'm glad I decided not to.  While the subject matter is benign, I didn't want them getting ideas of running away put into their heads (and after reading the story, running away does sound pretty fun).  There is also a part in the story where Jamie finds a chocolate bar, still in its wrapper.  Claudia warns him that it could be "doped."  He eats it anyway, and acts as if he's been poisoned, just for dramatic affect.  Again, a topic that could be brought up with younger kids, but probably better for older ones.  I'd say 5th or 6th graders would probably be a good age to enjoy, and understand, this book.

Also, if you read it, I'd recommend the recently re-released version, with an afterword from the author.  I enjoyed reading her insights into the book and the museum, since its original publication.  And, I recommend the audio version of the book, too.

Now that I've read the book, I'm just dying to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art!  And while the elaborate bed where Claudia and Jamie slept has since been dismantled (a fact learned from Konigsburg's afterword), I have a feeling there is a violin case nestled in an ancient sarcophagus, filled with gray clothing, waiting to be discovered.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Nook - Start Something That Matters

Start Something That Matters written by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes.  It's hard to read this book and not feel inspired.

In 2006, Mykoskie took an extended vacation to Argentina.  Being an entrepreneur-type (he was currently on his 4th start-up business) he thought about the opportunities there might be to market the alpargata (a simple canvas shoe worn by just about everyone in the country) in the US.  As he continued on his travels, he met a woman who worked with a charity that was giving shoes to underprivileged children.  She explained that sometimes the donated shoes were the wrong size & many children still went barefoot after the "shoe drops."  And Mykoskie saw firsthand the poverty outside the cities and the effects that not having shoes had on the children (infections, disease).  He decided that the best solution was to turn to something he already knew about: business.  He came up with the idea that he could start a shoe company that made a version of the alpargata and for each shoe he sold, he would donate one to a child in need....One for One, which is the motto of his company, TOMS (shoes for tomorrow).  In September 2010, the company celebrated its 1,000,000th pair of shoes given to a child in need (here is the link to the TOMS site to learn more).

The author not only gives the reader the TOMS story & how his company got started, but also explains that the reason it's so successful is that there is a great story to tell and customers that are all too eager to pass along the story because they are advocates for the company, not just consumers.  He gives lots of examples of other companies - what they do, how they started, how they grew, how they give.  There are also many pictures throughout the book of the TOMS company, the people that work there, the shoe drops, etc.  The pictures help add a very personal touch to the book, as well as Mykoskie's candid, honest writing.

Anyone can start something that matters.  Mykoskie shows the reader how he did it, and encourages the reader to do the same.  Maybe there's a great idea you've had (it doesn't have to be a grand idea, it's ok to start small) - turning your idea into a reality is possible.  And if you can help out a cause that is important to you, even better, because chances are, it's important for others out there too.  And that's one of the messages in the book: if you believe in what you are doing, you can't help but be passionate about it.

This is a great read for anyone interested in making a difference, whether it's through your own business ventures or volunteering or donating. etc.  This is the story of one person who had a great idea and turned it into a reality.

Oh, and I almost forgot:  there are lots of inspirational quotes (I love quotes) this one:

"Be the change you want to see in the world."
              -Mahatma Gandhi