August 2015 Book Review

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Goodness gracious me. August flew by for me, mainly because we were looking after this little guy:

Avi in the snow.

Avi in the snow.

In the few moments that we weren’t feeding our sick furry friend or putting little ice chips in his mouth, I managed to slip in the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer’s Secrets for Making your Clothes Look, Fit and Feel Amazing – Alison Freer (NF)

David and Goliath – Malcom Tidwell (NF) (no blog post)

I did spend quite a bit of time picking up and putting down The Secret River by Kate Glenville, but I just couldn’t get into it in the end. Returned it to the library unread, I’m afraid.

I have been reading a couple of back issues of The Atlantic magazine. Do those count? :-)

Total number of books read in August: 2

Total number of pages read: 542 pages (av. 271 pages)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 0 F and 2 NF.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 1 library books and 1 owned books. 0 e-books this month. (Total of 22 books off TBR this year.)

Source: ?

Source: ?

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 92

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 92: Shoelaces.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Trying my hand at something different…

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As work and life was getting so demanding, I was having difficulty with doing much reading so I turned to other ways to relax. Watched a few movies – the old Roman Holiday movie was a blast to watch. (Really funny in places – much better than I had thought it was going to be!) Still working on The Wire, and started the new Dennis Leary series about an aging rock star. (Good stuff.)

And I wanted to do something with my hands — crafty stuff. I don’t know what came over me, but I signed up for a community evening class to learn how to make wire-wrapped jewelry – earrings in this case.

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Way back in my teenaged years, I taught myself how to make earrings using springy wire, some random beads and a round-nosed pliers. They were pretty basic in design, but I enjoyed the process and had fun distributing the end products to friends. Thirty years later, I’m at it again, but this time, I’m learning to do it right from a professional artist.

Our lovely artist teacher...

Our lovely artist teacher…

What fun!

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It’s been so long since I’ve done something meditative (such as this) that I’m really interested in integrating this more into my life as balance, and to continue this spate of hand-crafting, I’ve dug out an old cross stitch project and I might even get with some friends to do some coloring.  The world is our oyster. :-)

It’s been a while.

Avi Dog having a rare moment of stillness in his puppyhood.

Avi Dog having a rare moment of stillness during his puppyhood. His energy switch was only on or off, and mostly on. One of the busiest dogs we’ve ever known. He will be missed.

Sorry for that unexpected absence. Life and work intervened with full force for a few weeks, and suddenly we’re almost at the end of August.

One of the saddest decisions that we had to make was to put our five-year old Australian Shepherd to sleep as he had what’s called dropjaw. This is a rare neurological disorder that affects the muscles in the head, particularly the bottom jaw, and makes it so the dog can’t eat food or drink water as his jaw muscles have been paralyzed. (Similar to a stroke in humans in some ways.)

After driving Avi Dog to several vets (including one six hours away), he ended up with the diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia (or dropjaw), a condition which usually resolves itself in 3-4 weeks (according to the few reputable websites which talk about this condition).

So we all soldiered on with Avi:  hand-feeding him (still hungry) and hand-watering him (still thirsty), giving him IV drips to help fluid intake, and going for short walks.

However, as time went on, his condition didn’t seem to improve and he lost his ability to swallow. (So not only could he not eat or drink anything, but even if we put this in his mouth behind his tongue, he would choke on it.) It was heart-breaking and after numerous emergency trips to the vet, it became obvious that although Avi’s spirit was willing, his body wasn’t.

So – here’s to Avi Dog. Our house seems very empty without the Black and White Tornado (which was a description of how much energy Avi had all the time), but he fills our hearts.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 91

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 91: Jaffa Cake box. (Empty, unfortunately.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 91: Jaffa Cake box. (Empty, unfortunately.)

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer’s Secrets for Making your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing – Alison Freer (2015)

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I tend to dress up quite a bit for my job now that I’m in a leadership position, and so every now and then, it’s fun to read a style guide to pick up any tips or fixes that might be appropriate for me. I’m not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like to look nice in my professional life and otherwise.

So I happened to see this title on the New Titles shelf and checked it out expecting — not much, really. I thought it was going to be all “Sex and the City” runway fashion ideas and weird photography of skinny young people (e.g. ‘arty pictures of runway models with television aerials on their heads’ sort of thing) when it was actually much more useful than that. Quelle surprise.

The author, Alison Freer, is a professional costume designer in LA in the media business and has a few years behind her so she knows the business. She also knows clothing and how to make your clothes good on you, and she had loads of enthusiasm and some good ideas as you might surmise from the number of page flags seen here:

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So, as the book is more of a handbook to pick up and put down, I thought this review would work best if I presented the info in note form. You may well pick up different ideas from me though if you read this. To the notes:

  • A skirt that spins around your waist during your day is probably due to the skirt fitting your hips and not your waist. The solution: have a tailor put darts in around the waist (that’s probably too big for you), and then it won’t spin. It also happens when a skirt is cut into a cylindrical shape as opposed to an hourglass shape (which is the shape of a lot of women.) The fix: buy the skirt that fits your hips and have a tailor add a few darts and take in the (probably too big) waist.

Well I never….

  • There’s a long procedure to check whether your blouses or shirts fit you. (Haven’t done this yet with my shirts, but did bother to take rough notes about the process so think that there might be some validity to it…)
  • If you have a favorite piece of clothing but it has one or two scratchy seams, buy a sheet of moleskin (that stuff for your feet), and then put the sticky side actually on that seam when you wear it. (Because you love it enough to put up with the scratchy seam that won’t be scratchy any more. Obvs this won’t stay on for a wash or similar, but it works for that evening or day.)
  • It’s worth buying the commercial wrinkle-release sprays for when you have wrinkles but not time to drag the iron out. (I actually quite like ironing when I pull out all the equipment, but it takes quite a lot to get me to do that. I find it a bit of a rigmarole.)
  • Wool boucle [just imagine the accent on the ‘e’] (French for “curled”) is made by wrapping at least two different yarns into a twisted pattern.
  • Corduroy – the ribs are called “wales” and range from in thickness from three to twenty-one ribs per inch.
  • Peau de soie – the material that dyeable wedding shoes (and similar) is made of. It’s a quite a heavy weight that takes dye evenly.

And lots of other random facts. Overall, this was both an interesting and a fun read, worth trying for non-fashionistas as well. As an afterthought, the author’s love of clothes was pretty infectious and she did make me want to go through my wardrobe (which I ended up doing).

Recap: 2015 Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference

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As part of my job and life, I write any number of documents, reports, PR materials and numerous other pieces, so it’s important that I try to learn as much as I can to develop my skills. Luckily, I love to learn and when I was offered the chance to attend a prestigious writing conference near Dallas, I jumped at it.

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference is an annual event organized by the Mayborn School of Journalism (or J-School as it’s known) at the University of North Texas. It’s been going on for quite some time, and has evolved into a pretty important literary event for those in the world of nonfiction (especially narrative NF, creative NF, long-form NF, literary NF or any of its other permutations). The conference’s theme was “The Great Divide” which covered, as the conference brochure says, “the great divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots in America and the social, economic, racial, cultural and political fissures created by this divide.”

Speakers were heavy hitters in the world of lit NF: there were keynotes from Anne Fadiman and from Barbara Ehrenreich, there were editors and writers of all levels from places like the Washington Post, New York Times, and The Atlantic magazine, and there were Pulitzer Prize winners talking about their work.

There were panel conversations about the ethics of writing someone else’s story (as happens with lit NF many times): should a writer appropriate the life story belonging to someone else and if so, what is the obligation (if there is one) of the writer to that someone during the process and afterwards (in terms of literary success etc.)?

There was one particularly interesting panel about a young journalist (actually on the panel) who had made a colossal mistake with a story, an error which may have played a role in the source’s eventual suicide. Who should have stopped the error? The journalist himself? His editors? In the end, twelve people read the story prior to print and no one said anything to stop it being published as it was written. How did that occur?

Another panel discussed the rights and wrongs involved in Rolling Stone’s wrongly reported fraternity rape case at a Virginia university. So many people were involved in the process, but somehow the source’s story didn’t get fact-checked… How? Why?

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It was a very thought-provoking two days and I learned a great deal, one of the biggest being that every lit NF (whether it’s a book or a short-form article) has a formal structure to it (thanks to good editors if you have one) and I’m slowly deconstructing essays and other documents to see how they are built within these structures.  I think that you have to know the rules to break the rules (re: grammar and other writing bits and pieces). This deconstructing process reminds me of diagraming sentences so if you liked to do that, then you’ll probably enjoy deconstructing essays. It’s great fun on long plane rides, if you ask me.

So – not only was the conference worthwhile, but being in Dallas meant that I was pretty close to lots of friends who live in the area so I managed to catch up with some of them in the scant free time there was. I might also have found a bookshop very close to the hotel. I can neither confirm nor deny that books were bought on this trip.

Anyway, a good trip and well worth the time and effort. You should look it up if you’re interested in lit NF, reading or writing it.

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 90

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 90: Birthday candles.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 90: Birthday candles.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you may know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level). All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)