Nasty Surprises

Sigh. I didn’t expect to have to post about racism in a garden group, but here we are. 2020 is full of nasty surprises. Just posted to my local group.

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Admin request: While we understand the impulse to make jokes about the “Chinese seeds,” often with references to conspiracy theories, monster plant imagery, and pandemic concerns, unfortunately, the cumulative effect of such posts and comments ends up adding to the racism that many Chinese Americans in our community already face, which has been accelerated by the recent health crisis.

And while the Chinese government certainly at times deserves criticism (as does our own, frankly), this isn’t really the appropriate place for those discussions; they’re very much off-topic.

So your admin team is asking folks to please refrain from such jokes going forward. Let’s keep the garden and this group a cheerful place, welcoming to all. Thanks!

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Octopi on My Face!

New fabric! Octopi on my face! This mask makes me feel like a pirate. 🙂

I have been trying to be restrained about buying new fabric patterns, but I’ve run out of a few of my original fabrics, so I gave myself permission to replace those. I went with something ocean-y for summer — aren’t these great? I made these for myself because my children keep stealing my masks and losing them. One with ear elastics, for quickly taking on and off, one with head and neck elastics, for more comfort in longer wearing.

The small print trellis pattern one is ideal for masks; the larger repeat is tricky, because if I want to center the most interesting elements, I’d have to waste quite a lot of fabric. So I can’t guarantee that anyone ordering this would get the exact same layout as you see on mine, but I’d try to make sure there’d be at least something fun on it — a steampunk whale or an octopus or a funky seahorse.

Both designs (“the deep deep depths” and “Tethys trellis (small)” are by one of my favorite artists on Spoonflower, Cean Irminger. “By day I am an upstanding mosaic designer for New Ravenna Mosaics on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. By night I am a superdork drawing whatever weird things pop into my head. By morning I’m exhausted.”

A Worldcon Report

SF/F folks, please read. Probably of interest to lit. people generally, esp. those involved with running literary festivals. I think Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan has done a terrific job of both summing up some of the major issues with WorldCon currently, and suggesting a constructive path forwards.

I particularly STRONGLY support future WorldCons committing to a solid online component, for equity reasons if nothing else. (But there are lots of good reasons for it.) And I think part-time paid staffing to help with continuity will make everyone’s life a lot easier, without eroding the best of fannish passion and commitment that have brought us so far already.

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“…One of the issues that people have been complaining about is that this year, yet again, some Hugo finalists were left off programming, or asked to be on programme items that they knew nothing about. How do we keep making the same mistake year after year?

The first thing I want to note is that CoNZealand has somewhat less programming that a normal Worldcon. That means it is harder to give everyone the programme slots that they want. Lots of people probably think that with an online convention you can have as much programming as you want, but I suspect that it isn’t as easy as it seems. I’m hoping that after CoNZealand we’ll have a good idea of how much it costs to run an online event that can cope with a Worldcon-sized audience, what the timelines are, and so on.

Something else that is worth noting is that, having been made aware of the issue, CoNZealand has done something bold and innovative. They have given free attending passes to all Hugo finalists, and allowed them to buy full Attending Memberships for the price of a Supporting Membership. You might think that every Worldcon should do this, but in the past it would have been fairly pointless. A free membership is of no use if you can’t afford the cost of travel and accommodation, which is much higher.

This provides an interesting challenge for future Worldcons, assuming that in-person events are possible. Should they continue this new “tradition”? If so, does that commit them to providing at least some programming online? I’d like to see them do that.

The main issue, however, is the perennial question of why the same mistakes happen year after year. Is there no continuity? Do people not learn from what went before? There are, of course, some people who work on Worldcon in some capacity every year. Not all of them continue to work in the same area though. Also, working on Worldcon every year is much easier when the convention simply moves around North America. Doing that when it moves around the world is much harder.

Another issue is that, while the people working at lower levels may be the same year-on-year, the senior management team is largely new each time. Those are the positions that the local people want. What they don’t want is to have a bunch of foreigners come in and tell them what to do.

What it comes down to, is that the competitive nature of the site selection process often results in the bid being won by a group of people who are then determined to show they world what they can do. They want to put on their sort of convention, not do things the same way that the Americans do them. And that leads to a lot of reinventing the wheel.

There are other factors that prevent us having as much continuity as we would like, and I will come back to them later, but we have arrived at the other major issue that people have been complaining about: Site Selection…”

Pre-Worldcon Report

Wait, what? A Worldcon report already? It hasn’t even started yet. Well no, but social media has been full of outrage already, so I wanted to look at the issues raised. I should start by saying that I don’t want anything here to be taken as criticism of CoNZealand.

Honored to Be Listed in NewCity’s Lit50

Honored to be listed in NewCity’s Lit50 for Chicago. I think this was one of the photos where the photographer wanted me to try to look serious. Not so easy! 🙂

I do like the colors in this outfit — purple in the hair (color by Splat!), bright blue blouse, dark blue jacket. (Props to Old Navy for having a well-fitting and flattering basic dark blue jacket at a very affordable price that I could grab on short notice.) Might need to do some serious lipstick research at some point — this one is okay, but something a little more wine-colored might be even better. I am such a make-up novice!

See more photos and read the blurbs about all of us here:

Lit 50: Who Really Books In Chicago 2020

Chicago provides a home to a wide range of writers from different aesthetics, interests, cultures and different neighborhoods within a city known for its neighborhoods. This year, we wanted to focus on writers who contribute to the growing body of American letters and critical thought across genres.

I Don’t Think People Understand

So, one thing that I think people don’t understand about remote education is just how much time teachers will be putting into making videos. I tried to explain it to a friend of mine on the phone, how I do take after take when recording a video, and somehow I failed to convey it well — she seemed to think I was saying that teacher insecurity was what led to online prep taking so long. What I was trying to say is that it’s just inherently time-consuming making even semi-decent videos.

Take this one, for example. Kel messaged me yesterday and asked if I could make a quick intro video for Fiberworld registration in the next few hours — about 30 seconds. I had to stop and think for a minute before saying yes, because I knew I was mostly scheduled in meetings for the next few hours, and I’d need to set aside about 30 minutes for this. In the end, it took me about 20 minutes to complete, and more than 30 ‘takes’ recording it.

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Here are the steps:

– write the script (Kel did that for me)

– either memorize the script, or just start recording it, knowing that by the time you say it twenty times, you’ll have it mostly memorized anyway

– shift position a bunch of times, moving distracting items (like my potted plant that was halfway behind my head) out of the way

– fix the lighting so people can actually see your face

– stumble over the words a bunch of times, so you have to start over

– get frustrated with the angle and how your face looks and start recording all over (okay, that part, I’m willing to put down to teacher insecurity, but it really does take a while for most people to get over that)

– realize that even though you’re holding the phone up near the screen with the words, your eyes are still darting over to glance at the next line periodically, and it looks weird, and you really are going to have to memorize it and walk away from the screen

– but mostly, repeat and repeat and repeat until it actually looks semi-natural, as if you’re just talking — which is important, because otherwise, students will get distracted and fixated on your tics and errors and will miss the actual point of what you’re trying to say. (Imagine a teacher who walks into class with toilet paper stuck to her skirt. Imagine just how many kids will be paying more attention to that than to what she’s saying. There’s a reason why we care about presenting well.)

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This is the process that I learned when I was making my first Kickstarter video (Kickstarter has a good video on this, actually, talking about how you should condense written paragraphs down to bullet points you can just talk, etc.), and I’m not even talking about pushing through the self-consciousness, etc. Thankfully, I’ve done enough videos now that I’m mostly past that, and can just accept that it’s not going to look perfectly professional and also I will not magically transform into a supermodel.

And there’s certainly an interesting option of doing what the kids do, and letting it be more raw and stumbly and whatever, which is undoubtedly a lot faster to produce, and has the virtue of seeming very honest and relatable. But that its own art form too; if you could see my daughter editing a TikTok video (or watching endless YouTube tutorials on how to do so), it’d be clear that the appearance of casualness is often not very casual.

So, anyway. I just wanted to lay this out a little, that for every minute of video time your teacher produces, they may well be putting in 30-60 minutes of production time. They’ll get better at it and faster as they go, but for a lot of them, this is a very new process, and it’s intimidating and hard.

And after all that, if teachers choose to point your kid to a Khan Academy video or something on YouTube instead of recording something themselves, that’s not a sign that they’re just lazy — it’s often a better, more efficient option, and will result in a better educational result. (And remember that reviewing lots of videos and selecting ones that are appropriate for your students and your class goals is also time-consuming work. Lots of videos don’t offer transcripts either, making it a slow process.)

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I’ll also note that this is the process for a short video, maybe 3-5 minutes, and no, I wouldn’t try to memorize an hour-long lecture. But I also would recommend against recording hour-long lectures; it’s super-challenging to keep students engaged through something like that, and most of them will click off.

There are tricks you can use, like embedding quizzes periodically, but if any of you have done mandatory work anti-harassment trainings and the like, you’ll know that those often feel really clunky and annoying. If our goal is student engagement, helping them to get honestly excited about the material and actively thinking about it, short videos are generally going to be much more effective than long ones.

So if your expectation is that the teacher will just stick a recorder in front of their face and talk, as if they were in front of a classroom — well, it just doesn’t work very well. If that’s what you’re demanding from your kids’ teachers, no wonder the kids are super-bored and falling out of their chairs.

Here endith the lesson.

So Glad We Got It

Woke up at 6, made it to downstairs and to the shed by 6:30, but e-mail and random posting and such has now taken it to 8. I get torn about whether I should just dive into writing first, or let myself ‘clear the decks’ of lingering things so I’m not stressing about them. I guess I’m not being very systematic about that, and it seems to be working okay, so maybe I shouldn’t fret.

On to chapter 8 revisions. Amused by the view from my writing chair.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to drain and move the pool — there was a 3″ dip in the base when we installed it, and Intex said 3″ was okay, but over 10 days, the lower end has sunk a little deeper, and we’re afraid of support struts snapping, which would be very sad.

So we’ll need to empty the pool (killing more grass with chlorinated water, but that’s okay, I’m not so attached to grass), take it down, move the tarp to a flatter part of the yard, put it up again, refill it. A slightly complex two-day process, but I think worthwhile for another month of happy swimming.

Yesterday was the first day I didn’t get in the pool since we got it, and it was only because I was scheduled morning to night, pretty much. But Kevin and Anand went for a swim, so it was not too neglected. So glad we got it.

A Writing Distraction that I Can Get Behind

Plant gooseneck loosestrife outside your writing shed door, and you’ll have a solid month of steady bloom, and a constant flurry of pollinators visiting. There was a HUGE yellow butterfly yesterday that I didn’t manage to photograph, I think maybe a Cloudless Sulphur but here’s a Silver-Spotted Skipper (thanks to Stephanie. Slow for the ID).

This is the kind of writing distraction that I can get behind. 🙂

The Smell of Melting Butter

The smell of melting butter is just fantastic. And if you’ve been running a little harried, being forced to just stand still and watch the butter melting for a few minutes is rather lovely. (Somehow, the last few days have been particularly hectic, working often for 12-14 hours straight, with most of it requiring my brain, which is tiring.)

Made a jaggery brown butter glaze for the banana bread scones, glazed them, then froze them for the September Patreon treat boxes. They’re so tasty — I really love these; hope the recipients do too.

I realized this morning that I kind of want feedback on those treat boxes — if you got one and feel like sharing, would love to hear what you liked, what didn’t work, etc. Constructive criticism is good! I want recipients to be utterly delighted with their boxes, and I’m still new enough at this that it’s definitely a learning experience for me.

And the June box was definitely a challenge, since I was so fretful about things melting — it meant I didn’t feel like I could rely on marshmallows and chocolates the way I could in March.

Should I Offer Anything Else?

Brainstorming Fiberworld classes I can offer, which I should have done a month ago, but Kel is kindly letting me slip a few in under the wire. I’m currently thinking:

• Knitted Sweets: featuring knit & crochet cookies and knit chocolate bars, we’ll show you how to use embossed rollers and molds to make fun textile-inspired treats for your next stitch-and-bitch, or just to enjoy at home. Mary Anne will share a recipe for a chai-spiced chocolate cookie dough, demonstrate rolling out cookies with an embossed roller, show you how to highlight the pattern with edible gold luster dust, how to dip and decorate with melted chocolate, and how to make a solid knit-pattern chocolate bar as well.

• Kantha Stitching: similar to sashiko in appearance, traditional Bengali kantha embroidery uses a simple running stitch to bind light pieces of cotton together, traditionally used to salvage old cotton saris and turn them into lightweight throws, cushions, and more. Bring an embroidery needle, some floss, and some scrap pieces of cotton if you’d like to stitch along as Mary Anne demonstrates how she salvages remnants of mask fabric and transforms them into charming bookmarks.

• Sewing the Deaconness-style Pleated Face Mask: bring your sewing machine, fabric, and tools if you want to sew along with us, or just come watch as we talk and walk through the steps for creating a mask with two layers of 100% cotton, a sewn-in layer of filter fabric, and a metal nose piece. We’ll be cutting two 6×9 rectangles of fabric and one of filter fabric, if you’d like to prep that in advance, and Mary Anne will show you some of the options for fastening — ear elastics, head and neck elastics, and fabric ties made from both bias tape and twill tape. She’ll also share some of her favorite geeky & botanical design fabrics that you can find on Spoonflower.

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How does that look? Anything unclear? Do these look interesting? Should I be offering anything else?

Brace Yourself

I got this for myself several months ago, but didn’t have a good reason to wear it until today, when I ended up having three events in quick succession, all different — a Wild Cards panel for WorldCon, recording a video for the Fiberworld convention, and having a meeting with a D&D-related company. Was kind of funny, 3-6 pm was all about the felt dragon stole and accompanying fire lizard.

Brace yourself if you go look for yourself; it was pricey. But utterly beautiful felting work by Irena Biskup, PeacockFelt on Etsy. Will put link to her store in comments. The fire lizard is a separate pin, so you can separate them.