sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 5, 2017

national book festival and other weekendy things
posted by soe 3:28 am

This long Labor Day weekend marked the traditional end of summer fun and the recognition that fall is nigh. It meant time at the pool, enjoying the last days of outdoor swimming. It meant harvesting our basil plants from the garden, but still getting to have our traditional Sunday summer supper of caprese sandwiches and corn on the cob. It meant spending the evening at the park, but being home by 8 because you can no longer read outside. It meant buying tomatoes at the farmers market, but also leeks because the idea of hot soup no longer requires taking a nap.

But it also meant the 17th annual National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress, one of my favorite events of the year.

I am not a morning person, so while every year I plan the authors I’d like to see from the first time slot to the final one, I’m not sure I’ve yet managed to arrive early enough to catch the first act. This year was no different, and I didn’t walk into the convention center until noon, shortly before the first panel I’d declared “must see” in my head.

Melissa de la Cruz, Nicola Yoon, and Sandhya Menon

On the YA stage were Melissa de la Cruz (who’s got a Christmas-themed romance coming out this fall, as a follow-up to her Hamilton-themed YA novel), Nicola Yoon (whose The Sun Is Also a Star is the reason I was there), and Sandhya Menon (I read When Dimple Met Rishi earlier this summer — it’s cute) to have a panel discussion about falling in love. While I tend to prefer a single author reading & talking about her/his experiences to conversation-style presentations, this one seemed to work well. All three had interesting things to say not only about love (“You all really love our husbands,” since that’s who the male leads are at least partly modeled on), but also about immigration and diversity.

A.S. King

I tracked down a copy of the festival poster (my collection will someday be framed and will festoon the walls of my home library) and proceeded down to the basement, where the kids’ stages were set up. Amy Sarig (A.S.) King was sharing her new middle-grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, about a boy in a town where housing developments had taken over the areas that had once been farm fields and the plastic-eating monster he finds. She used to live on a farm and shared how she raised chickens and would have to plan 20 weeks ahead of when she wanted to send out manuscripts because she’d need to sell enough to cover the cost of postage. She was also really funny with the kids: After she spoke admiringly of Where the Wild Things Are and the librarian who introduced her to it, a kid asked if she’d written it. After clarifying the point, the kid asked if they were friends. “No! I wish!” she said to them, adding to the adult audience members, “That’ll have to wait for later.”

Kathleen Glasgow

Back upstairs I went to hear Kathleen Glasgow talk about her YA novel, Girl in Pieces, about a girl who lives through terrible things and survives them in part by engaging in self-harm. She says she gets a lot of criticism from parents, who feel her work is too dark, and therefore inappropriate, for teens to read. But those are the very stories we need to tell, she explained, so that teens living those dark stories have a place to process them. She also said that it was particularly important for YA novels to offer a glimmer of hope in them (and even better if the protagonist is responsible for creating that hope themselves), because teens without any needed to be able to see that things can get better.

Kelly BarnhillAt this point, it was necessary to pause for lunch and to sit quietly by myself for a bit. I find this helps me deal with the crowds, which are much more oppressive inside than they were when the festival was down on the Mall.

Afterwards, I returned to the children’s stage, where Kelly Barnhill was talking about her lovely fantasy novel, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, who had a really engaging way of interacting with the kids in the audience. After being joined by Rudi, who hadn’t been able to get in the room where Michael Lewis was speaking, we raced back up to YA to catch my other must-see author, Angie Thomas, who wrote The Hate U Give.

Angie Thomas

Angie’s session was an interview between her and a reporter from the Washington Post, and I don’t think it worked as well as it could have if Angie had just gotten up and spoken. The interviewer asked her about how the main character uses two ways of speaking — one at her predominantly white school and one at home in her primarily Black community — and asked how she’d done that and if she’d thought of Starr as two separate characters. I literally groaned aloud and whispered angrily to Rudi that only a white interviewer would ask such a stupid question. Angie answered more gracefully, explaining the term is called code switching and that she was doing it right then and that it’s a skill many people of color use to navigate in social settings. She spoke about how she found adult books boring, how “reluctant readers” often aren’t so much reluctant to read as reluctant to read what people give them to read, about the upcoming film adaptation, about her second book, about how white feminists are often slow to see their own privilege, and about how you can write outside of your lived experiences, but if you get things wrong, you should expect to be called out on that and to be graceful about it.

Finally, Rudi and I went down to the graphic novels stage for the final authors of the night. Gene Luen Yang shared that the superpower he’d like most is the ability to multiply time so he could make his deadlines, two editorial cartoonists spoke about how they developed their personal styles and about creating political commentary in this era. We also got to see Lincoln Pierce, whose “Big Nate” strips are among my favorites in the Sunday comics. But the highlight of the stage was definitely Roz Chast, whose exhaustion at the end of the day made her very giggly and slightly confused about the prompting messages being held up for the moderator. She shared that living in the suburbs made her far more nervous than living in the city, although she punctuated this by telling the story of a man who had a sink hole open up beneath him as he walked, swallowing one of his legs.

Roz Chast

All in all, another good festival, and I’m looking forward to next year’s.

Category: books,dc life. There is/are 3 Comments.

August 8, 2017

a trip to the country
posted by soe 9:33 am

Rudi and I try to make it out to Poolesville, Maryland, at least once mid-summer for a visit to the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management, where they have several fields of sunflowers (as well as fields of other plants). We were late this year, so the first field had mostly grown over, but the third field was still in okay shape. (We skipped the second field, because it requires going through the marsh and I can’t find our bug spray. Given the state of my calves right now, I’m going to say that was an excellent call. So itchy!)

Here are some of the highlights:




Rudi and the Sunflower


Small Sunflowers


We didn’t just see plants. There were lots of insects (in addition to the unseen mosquitoes) and thus a lot of birds. The birds were too quick for me (I’m pretty sure I saw a mountain bluebird, but it could have been an Eastern one, and there were definitely gold and purple finches, as well as their plainer avian relatives), but I caught a few of the bugs:

American Lady Butterfly
An American Lady Butterfly


Dogbane Leaf Beetle
Dogbane Leaf Beetle


Common Green Darner
Common Green Darner

Finally, the advantage of coming out at the end of the season, rather than the beginning, is that you find out that a lot of people have a sense of humor:

Sunflower Faces

Sunflower Graffiti

In case that last shot is hard to see, people have picked out seed coverings to depict crosses, initials, and other designs. Essentially, agricultural graffiti.

Category: dc life. There is/are 3 Comments.

July 18, 2017

a trip to the african american museum
posted by soe 12:51 am

My weekend began a little early on Friday because Sarah’s sister had extra tickets to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which remains so popular that you either need to reserve space months ahead or wait in line for a giveaway spot. Being lazy, I’d opted to do neither, figuring that sooner or later all hot spots die down and eventually I’d be able to just stroll in. Or as strolly as one gets in D.C., where walking into practically any venue requires either showing an ID or going through a metal detector or both. (I remain grateful that none of the D.C. libraries requires such ridiculousness.)

Where was I? Right! So we spent the afternoon at the museum, sort of with our friends Michael and Julia and sort of not, since we split up, regrouped, and split up again, which meant Julia was done about 45 minutes before the rest of us, but that’s because Rudi and I stopped and had a late lunch partway through.

Ida B. Wells Quote

Here are just a few of the things we saw during our 4+ hours at the museum: (more…)

Category: arts,dc life. There is/are 2 Comments.

July 7, 2017

socializing, staycation, and fireworks
posted by soe 3:06 am

A Capitol Fourth

Three beautiful things from my past week:

1. This week has held lots of chances for hanging out with friends: Susan & Phillip had us over for a barbecue, Sarah invited me to a ballgame (which ultimately got rained out, but not before we spent two hours in the stadium chatting and eating supper), my coworker & I walked over to the farmers market this afternoon, and tonight our friends invited us to attend a play with them. We also got to spend the evening at the ballpark with a couple of Rudi’s cycling friends, whose company I enjoy.

Nationals Park at Sunset

2. My office decided it was cheaper to give everyone the day off than to expend the energy to open on a Monday just to close the next day. I responded by asking for last Friday off to give myself a relaxing five days out of the office. There were naps, outdoor movies, swims, work in the garden, Tour de France watching, reading, knitting, a trip to the library, and a couple meals out — one at a restaurant that was closing and one that opened earlier this year.

3. Between Monday’s post-game display and Tuesday’s A Capitol Fourth, we got to see lots of gorgeous fireworks:

Neon Display


Fireworks within Fireworks

Sparkly Sky Flowers

Post-Game Fireworks


How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world lately?

Category: dc life,three beautiful things. There is/are 10 Comments.

June 14, 2017

posted by soe 2:21 am

Yesterday, I had jury duty. It’s fine; it’s my fourth time being called in the 14 years I’ve lived here. D.C. has, in the grand scheme of jury duties, a relatively pain-free system, since although you almost certainly will have to report to the courthouse, unless you’re picked to serve on a trial, you’ll be dismissed to go home. There’s no need for you to remain on stand-by for a month.

My three prior jury duty sessions have ended with one criminal trial (which lasted about a week), one civil trial (which lasted a couple days), and being excused early in the afternoon.

I was in the later pool of jurors, which I appreciated because I am really not a morning person. Almost immediately after the orientation, they called out more than 50 people and took them off to be considered for a jury. Within ten minutes, they were back and took almost all of the rest of us for the voir dire process for a different trial in a courtroom down the hall.

Turns out this was going to be for a murder trial and it was going to last at least two weeks. The prosecution had a long list of witnesses they planned to call. Many of my fellow jurors answered the questions in a way that got them immediately dismissed, but my answers put me through to the end of the process. While I wanted to tell them that I am rather squeamish about graphic depictions of violence, I held my tongue. Should someone ever accuse me of murder, I’d want people to suck it up and listen to my side of things, so the Golden Rule dictates that I do the same.

However, because so many people had opted out, there were no longer enough potential jurors left for them to disqualify any of us themselves. And apparently that’s necessary. So the judge sent us home with the admonishment that we had to return again today, at which point she’d have repeated the process with a second set of jurors.

Instead of going home (or off to sit in the shade and read), I headed back to the office. If I was going to be out of work for two weeks, I decided I should let folks know, set up email and phone greetings, and get a little more work done.

Today I returned to the courthouse, where per her word, the judge had found a couple dozen more potential jurors, from whom she started filling the jury box. At this point the lawyers could start ruling people out, and they did. Of the original 14 people they sat in the jury box, probably only 3 remained by the end. And they’d made a good stab into the group of us returning from yesterday — the final person they picked was the woman sitting next to me.

But in the end, I didn’t find myself on the jury of a murder trial, and I’m really grateful for that.

And now I’m done with jury duty for at least the next two years.

Category: dc life. There is/are 8 Comments.

February 4, 2017

show us what america looks like
posted by soe 3:10 am

This is what America looks like:

No Muslim Ban March

I’d suggest clicking through to see that in a slightly bigger version.

These were all taken at the protest at the White House — which turned into an impromptu march to the Capitol — as a result of the anti-Muslim/anti-Middle East ban enacted last week.

If you are feeling alone in your anger/sadness/grief/rage, know you are not. We are all there with you.

No Muslim Ban March

This protest came together in less than a day. I don’t think anyone, including the organizers, expected this many people to show up. (I do think the surprisingly strong response was due, in part, to liberals in D.C. receiving a week’s worth of emails demanding we call the Congressional representatives that we lack to express opposition to Cabinet nominees and executive orders. We might not have anyone to call (or protect us), but, damn it, we can show up in person‚Ķ)

No Muslim Ban March

People of all size, shape, age, color, creed, and ethnicity came. A friend brought his children, making it the first protest rally for all of them.

No Muslim Ban March

No Muslim Ban March

The cheer at this point was, “This is only your ninth day. We’re not going to go away.”

No Muslim Ban March

This is the Old Post Office Building, which is now owned by the same family occupying the White House. Locals do not use the new name.

No Muslim Ban March

I wish I could give you a sense of how many people were there. Let’s just say that it’s 16 blocks from the White House to the Capitol. When we reached Pennsylvania Avenue (2 blocks in), we could see crowds seven blocks away, which I guessed at the time were associated with the Chinese New Year Parade. They weren’t. When we reached the Capitol, there were still people streaming all the way back. The best I can offer you is a link to one of the photos of the people taking pictures from the balcony at the Newseum.

No Muslim Ban March

No Muslim Ban March

As my friends and I headed off to find a late lunch, the crowd was chanting, “See you next week!”

(This week, though, instead of hitting up the White House & Capitol Hill, I’ll be taking part in the candlelight vigil tomorrow evening between D.C.’s mosque/Islamic Center and the Vice President’s mansion a few blocks away in my own neck of the woods.)

Category: dc life,politics. There is/are 2 Comments.