January 1, 2020

Traditional new year’s photo of the park:

park with Doug firs on an overcast day

It may not look as inspiring as it has other years, featuring neither snow nor sunshine, but after the nasty cold that consumed a week of my life, I was happy to get out on a walk and see it.

I pulled together my 2019 reading list yesterday, and my favorites were all kidlit:

  • Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series
  • Robin Stevens’ Jolly Foul Play, fourth of the Wells & Wong mysteries and my favorite so far (but I’m not caught up yet)
  • Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
  • Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman. I liked Seraphina and Shadowscale fine, but thought this was a big step up in writing and emotional complexity.
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Mao and Me by Jiang Hong Chen, translated from French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick.

I read Mao and Me again, last night and this morning. It’s a picture-book memoir of the Cultural Revolution, seen through the eyes of a boy age 3 – 13. I love the art, with lots of black ink and several images together on a page.

picture book page with three panel illustration of a boy and his grandmother playing cards

But most of all I love how somehow amidst the big events and big emotions there is room to sit there quietly beside the author with it all. The ending is part of this:

For a number of years now I have lived abroad, but I return to China regularly to see my family. My parents have not moved. The city of my childhood has changed a lot, yet my apartment building has stayed the same and the tree in the courtyard is still there.

I don’t know if this has explained it at all, but I’m not that much of a picture book person and I haven’t been able to bring myself to take this one back to the library. (I mean, I will. There are limits on renewals. So I will, eventually, buy a copy and take this one back.)

Reading Wednesday on Friday: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

The view from my office window this morning…was there a backup at the airport, or what?

eastern sky from Portland, with contrails in a spiraling pattern

ETA: there was a backup, but at SeaTac, where fog necessitated spacing the planes more widely. Portland was the holding pen with-runways-if-necessary

cover image Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

This had been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months. I think I’d been passing it over because it looks like a standard-issue wacky middle-grade buddy novel, plus it’s a Disney imprint, so…

But then I saw it had six nominations in the Heavy Medal mock Newbery listings, and there was probably a reason it was on my shelf in the first place, so…

It was so good! It’s funny, and it kept surprising me, and something about the logic of it all reminded me of Daniel Pinkwater. Not directly in style, but if there were a Pinkwater Award for humorous middle-grade fiction, this would win it.

Catnip: arts magnet school, supportive families, alternate universes. Plus Miami Cuban culture and Type 1 diabetes representation. Thanks, Rick Riordan, for reading the author’s adult short-story anthology, calling him up, and inviting him to write for kids! I mean, that’s fantasy fodder all on its own.

And I love living in the future, because just as I got towards the end, I saw news of the sequel on Twitter:

I go to waste

Yesterday Sang and I went with a vanful of college alumni to the dump! It was a tour kindly provided by a chemistry alumn who’s worked for Metro for 28 years. First was the solid waste transfer station, where commercial haulers and the general public bring trash. Sang and I had been there in the 90s, when we bought our house and discarded its very gross old carpets.

A large pile of pallets and tree limbs in a sunlit warehouse

They sort out what they can to reuse or recycle. (Curbside recycling is collected and processed elsewhere.) This is the woodpile. Painted and treated wood is ineligible, so it’s mostly pallets and tree limbs.

Then we went to the adjoining Hazardous Waste facility. Our host worked here until recently; we saw the little lab where he’d worked his first job, testing unlabeled stuff people had brought in by dipping test papers into it and maybe adding something and setting them on fire, until it was ID’d enough that they knew what to do with it. Outside was a grove of rescued (rather than hazardous) gnomes and statues.

View past a forklift to a collection of garden gnomes and similar statues by a curb
The last stop was the MetroPaint facility where leftover latex paint is remixed into standard colors and resold, a process paid for by the industry. The machinery wasn’t running on a Saturday, but an employee obligingly started up a giant mixer so we could go up a ladder one by one and see an enormous vat of dark brown paint being stirred. All the equipment had lots of paint on it.

Machinery covered with many colors of paint drips

Many people have worked for decades to make a five- to fifteen-percent difference in our overwhelming local (yet globalized) waste stream. It’s not nothing, but in Star Wars terms it’s a very small resistance force in the context of the empire.

I think everyone in the van would agree that change will happen, if it does, at the policy level. Yet conversation on the way back kept slipping into individual purity, like where is the one place in one suburb that you can drop off your #6 plastic for recycling, or how someone managed to find a school that wanted his hundreds of yogurt cartons for a project, or how a startup is delivering certain brand-name products in reusable containers like milk was delivered in glass bottles in the old days.  I passed around some leftover trick-or-treat candy wondering if it was a faux pas because of the wrappers, but that was ridiculous no one said anything.

Friday Five

  1. What’s a food or drink whose bottom is better than its top?  Bubble tea! Also lentils monastery style from Diet for a Small Planet, because you grate the Swiss cheese into the bottom of your bowl before adding soup.
  2. What’s at the top of your weekend agenda?  I bought basil last weekend and haven’t made it into pesto cubes for the freezer yet, so that’s first priority.
  3. When did you last wear a non-hat covering for your head?  Um…I don’t wear scarves on my head much, and it’s been too warm for hoodies, and everything else is a hat? If my bike helmet counts, I wore it yesterday.
  4. What tunes did you spin this week?  Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” is my current earworm, because someone I follow on Twitter was proposed to (successfully) while it played in the background. And last night Sang and I started watching the fourth season of Shetland and both of us remembered how much we liked the music.
  5. When were you last on the roof of a building?  A few weeks ago when I checked out our rain gutters. Which need… something. Another drainpipe? Adjusting so downhill is toward the existing drainpipes? I’m hoping YouTube can help me figure it out before rainy season.

Questions courtesy of f.riday5.com

must dash

wooden library shelving cart with a stenciled 18 and a taped-on printout of the alphabet in capital letters

I concluded that the alphabet is laminated and staff mark it up… but for awhile I pictured people shelving until all the letters looked weird and they forgot the alphabet and needed a cheat sheet.


Happy Labor Day! Being a little bit active in the AAUP is one of the few things I’ve done that’s felt usefully political in the Trump years—when elected representatives seem unlikely to keep or change their positions in response to my phone calls, and donations seem like a miniscule drop in the political-money ocean. Last week I sat in as an observer during bargaining; the union believes things go better when as many of the people actually affected as possible are in the room, even silently. (Even reading a book or typing away on a laptop. Donuts were also involved.)

We do interest based bargaining, so for the entire hour I was there, they were at step one of seven, framing the problem to be talked about. It’s easy to see why bargaining starts in the summer even though the contract’s not up til the end of November.

Not all chapters of AAUP are negotiating collective bargaining agreements; I enjoyed this account of guerrilla organizing by adjuncts in my hometown.


Unusual that two pieces in one week would make me think anew about dashes—

em dash compared to a semicolon in this one, as in

I thought hanging out would be great—a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.

I thought hanging out would be great; it would be a chance to finally see the city, just like Aunt Lillian wanted.

And here, an en dash for a relation that isn’t numbers or dates or place names, like author–editor relationship or either–or, and how it differs from a hyphenated adjectival construction:

Amir was an Asian–British scholar and something of a polyglot.

Amir was an Asian-British scholar and something of a polyglot.

In the first example, with an EN DASH, Amir’s Asianness and Britishness have equal weighting. In the second, with the HYPHEN, ‘Asian’ is modifying ‘British’ and carries less weight.

Things to keep an eye out for in the wild, anyway.



Stenciled poster “THE END IS [Bill Nye’s face]


post with white graffiti: “MY BAD”

outside the alternative high school by the #17 bus stop

Jacqueline Woodson on Think Out Loud

I was fortunate enough to be able to take a long lunch break from work and go to Jacqueline Woodson’s interview for the OPB radio show Think Out Loud. It aired live on April 4th, the same day she read at the Portland Arts & Lectures series. The live audience was small and included students from Ockley Green Middle School, who appropriately got priority for Q&A. They had read several of Woodson’s books in their classes, over several years–a school experience I’ve envied since reading Vivian Paley’s The Girl With the Brown Crayon.

Host Dave Miller, like all radio people, didn’t look like I thought he would. Also he dressed up, in a jacket and orange silk tie. I’ve always liked his show–he excels at listening to an answer and asking a follow-up question that immediately seems like the very next thing you’d want to know, even if the answer sounded complete before he asked it.

Woodson was smiling and butch and luminous. I snapped a photo but unfortunately it’s terrible so I’m not posting it.

Before the show went live, Miller explained to us that it is difficult, but important, not to talk about anything of substance before the show starts, because it never goes as well if you try to rehash a conversation on the air.

“So,” he asked Woodson, “did you get breakfast?”

Yes, she’d had an omelette with arugula and mushrooms. She doesn’t like mushrooms, but tries to push the boundaries a little when she travels.

Miller told her about his friend’s “slightly different muffin” theory—even if you eat a muffin for breakfast every day, you should sometimes eat a slightly different muffin.

Then we were on the air.

All the reading was from her memoir in verse Brown Girl Dreaming, which led into talking about how her reading and writing life began. As a child Woodson read very slowly, so much so that by the time she finished reading a passage the class had left her behind for the next thing. She still reads very slowly–as though reading in a different way or for a different purpose than other people, taking time to feel how the letters and words and paragraphs are put together, and to inhabit them before moving forward.

“So when someone says something we usually think of as a compliment,” Miller asked, “like I loved your book so much I read it in one evening—?”

“I tell them go back and read it again, because it took me three years to write!”

Woodson wanted to write from the first time she wrote her name. She talked about the library she went to, the books she loved, most by white authors and all from the children’s section (because the librarian was strict about that). The thrall in which words and books have always held her was so apparent that Dave Miller blurted, “It’s like you were made in a laboratory to be a children’s writer!”

Now she writes adult fiction, memoir, poetry, young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, and picture books, which she loves for “the revelation that each line affords.” When she finishes a book, she gives it to the friends who are her first readers and asks them, “Tell me everything you love about this book.” Only that. Then she works on it again, gives it back, and tells them to ask her three questions about the book.

Her family was part of the Great Migration, South Carolina to Brooklyn. She talked about the code-switching she learned between home and school, and between the South and New York, enforced by her grandmother: “She wanted us to be able to survive in a country that didn’t speak our language.”*

Woodson is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, focusing on visiting Title I schools and juvenile detention facilities, which don’t get many author visits.*

*These asterisks stand in for stories that made my heart stutter and I don’t want to summarize them. The interview is available as a podcast at https://www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/jacqueline-woodson-at-literary-arts/


I witnessed some White Women Behaving Badly at this event. Taking all the seats up front so kids had to sit behind them where it was harder to see. Asking questions that were…not tuned in to the conversation.

Three things about this that I’m still thinking over:

  1. Feeling, based on a couple of overheard comments, that their obtuseness is rooted in their sense of their own oppression as women and especially older women–that if they have been overlooked or diminished, they couldn’t possibly now be obstructive or taking up too much space.
  2. I’ve read on Twitter and Tumblr about YA fandoms’ problem with adult fans speaking over and swamping younger fans, which they can do easily because they have more power and resources. I haven’t paid much attention because I’m not a teacher or librarian and I don’t go to many events, review advance copies, etc. My connection to kidlit and YA is for myself, not For The Children, and it’s mostly reading library books by myself and sometimes writing about them here for my twelve beloved readers. But yeah, I feel like I saw this flock of white women (part of it was a Meetup group) descend, and ruin the space a little.
  3. I am also a white woman with gray hair. The way I felt while watching all this was exactly the way I felt as a teenager when my parents did something embarrassing in public. Oh my god can you not and it is of the utmost importance not to be associated with this in either appearance or reality. Since I see my teenage self and my parents so differently now, it makes me think I am not seeing myself now and my connection to White Women Behaving Badly clearly enough. I have more to think and do?

on Ramona Street

Handwritten sign pinned to telephone pole

Ramona’s Violin Stand / 50 cents per recital


Small log gnawed through by beaverSkunk cabbage in mud

Lots going on in the canyon. (But no turtle yet.) The Canada geese were VERY LOUD contesting who’s gonna be whose mate.

When I went to upload the photos, I found that I take an almost identical photo of skunk cabbage every year.