Thursday, July 9, 2009

Let Them Eat Dog Treats!

Looking for some indoor, anytime fun that you can do with the kids?  Make your own dog treats.  There are several beautiful things about this project and the recipe shared below.  First, it's an age-diversity-friendly project; both Batman (age eleven) and Robin (age four) love being part of all the steps of baking something. Second, it's incredibly easy.  Third, it's dog treats.  If they sneeze on the dough or lick the peanut butter off the spoon they're still using to stir, who cares?  Not the dog.  If the shapes are lopsided, or the limbs of the cookie-dogs get left behind on the counter, who cares?  (In fact, Robin was really proud of his headless, tail-less dog cookie.  Batman said it looked like a table.)  It is such a lovely feeling to let go of any attempt at cookie perfection and just let them have fun.

Here is my favorite dog treat recipe:

Simple Simon's Birthday Bones

2 cups whole-wheat flour 
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1 cup natural peanut butter 
1 cup skim milk

Cooking Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet mixture to dry, and mix well. Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead. Roll out to 1/4-inch thick and cut out shapes. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 20 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool on a rack then store in an airtight container. Makes 30 large bones

From the Three Dog Bakery Cookbook (more on this below)

I can't speak to it making 30 large bones, because we usually double the recipe and use a variety of cookie cutters.  If you double the recipe, you can just use an entire jar of peanut butter and don't have to measure it out (yuck).  We use cookie cutters in all kind of shapes: bones, dogs, gingerbread men, partial gingerbread men . . .
And if you (or your offspring) get tired of cutting out shapes, which is pretty likely if you make a double batch, then it works just as well if you slice the dough into little squares and throw them on the cookie sheet.

The final thing I love about this recipe is that it tastes good.  Yep, we've been eating dog treats.  Well look at the ingredients.  Pretty healthy, right?  (The sneeze germs were burned up in the oven.  Really.)  It doesn't have anything weird like bone marrow or pigs' ears. Robin is a really, really picky eater.  He won't eat peanut butter.  But he loves eating these "cookies" and would happily eat a couple dozen at one sitting.  It does drive the dog crazy, though, seeing the people wandering around munching the dog treats.  She knows they're dog treats.  Don't ask me how.  She just does.

Speaking of dogs, as promised above, I wanted to mention a little something about Three Dog Bakery.  If you haven't heard of or read Amazing Gracie by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff, you should.  It's a great dog/people story along the lines of Marley and Me, and it's about how Three Dog Bakery got started.  It is sad--I don't think I ever read the end, because you see it coming, like you do the end of Marley and Me--but it's a great book.  And that's another reason I like this recipe, because it's connected to a great book, a great business, and great people.  

So . . . Eat dog biscuits.  Be quiet.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fabulous Trailer!

Check out this awesome trailer from the uber-talented Maggie Stiefvater.  She made this out of paper cutouts and wrote the music, and she's a great writer, too!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shut up, Editor Brain!

I've just spent two wonderful days at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts mini-teacher institute learning about all sorts of American art from incredibly knowledgeable people.  As with every good teacher workshop, there were several hands-on activities that we could take back to our students.  Now, I've gotta tell you, I'd rather just have a lecture than get involved in a "turn to your neighbor and discuss" type of thing.  But VMFA and their awesome education director always do a great job with unusual activities that work in a variety of different curriculums, so I try to keep an open mind.

Today, though, they wanted me to paint a landscape!  First, we had a brilliant lecture and slideshow on American Landscape Photography.  High brow professional sorts of things were discussed such as composition, the golden mean, how the artist's choices influence the work, and where the artist is in the work.  

"Now you're going to use what you learned and go outside and paint your own landscape!" said the cheerful instructor.  She started explaining about paint and the paint boards and how we might want to start with a sepia wash and choose our land horizon.

The woman next to me looked at me with wide eyes.  "I teach special ed," she whispered.  
"English," I whispered back.  We nodded our heads in commiseration and horror.

"Those of you who aren't painters are so lucky!" enthused the instructor.  "You don't have anything to worry about!"  

Somehow this wasn't comforting.  My stomach knotted itself smaller.  I could hear the "editor brain" start to muster the list of reasons this activity was going to be BAD.  The list went something like this: I can't paint; the last time I took art was in high school; I can't do perspective; I don't think I was listening during the slide show; I don't know what my point of view for a painting will be; I can't paint; what if it's horrible; it will be horrible; I can't paint.

I made no great rush to get to the head of the line for paints.  In fact, it seemed that those of us lingering toward the end had many of the same reservations.  One very art-oriented woman gave us bits and pieces of advice.  "You'll want to sketch in the things in the background first." (Huh, wouldn't have thought of that--probably would have just picked the closest thing to me and had at it.)  "Get a round brush and a flat brush."  (I still don't know why.)  "You don't need too much paint."  (Well that's for sure.)  The getting the paint process was sort of fun.  All those colors.  For a little bit I forgot about the fact that I'd actually be using them.

Out we went.  Helpful, happy interns gave us cups of water and paper towels.  The outside was huge.  And bright.  And full of things that could go in a painting.  And full of diligent people finding spots and getting to work.

"Now I'm all nervous again," I said aloud, though nervous didn't quite cover the squished stomach and noisy brain.
"Oh just have fun!" said the happy person.
Fun?  I wandered down the walk.  How was this going to be fun?

I found a building I liked.  And some trees.  And a spot in the shade I could sit in.  I sat down.  I wondered if that sort of yellowish brown would make a sepia wash if I added some water to it.  Editor brain yammered on about my deficiencies.  Look, I told it, there is not one single person in this entire world who cares if I screw this up.  I felt a little better.  I tentatively put some lines in.  The instructor came by.  I resisted the urge to tell her she couldn't see.

"Oh, look at you!" she said.  "You're doing great!"
"I am?"
"You've got it sketched in, your perspective is right, and even though you've got something in the center, you've balanced it out!"
(Huh.  Things in center=bad?)

The perspective wasn't really quite right, and I didn't have enough white, and I had completely lost the ability (which I swear I had in high school) of mixing colors.  I told editor brain that I didn't care if the roof was pink, I was just giving this a try, and I also wanted to try the shadows and the trees, and I wasn't going to get to that if it didn't shut up about the pink roof.  Eventually editor brain calmed down and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the people nearby.

Before I knew it, it was time to go in, and I didn't want to.  I wanted to stay and paint more.

Going in, editor brain began fidgeting.  It didn't want me to put the painting out and share. It had all sorts of reasons.  I put it out anyway and looked around.
Every painting was different.  Some were very painterly, and some weren't.  Some looked unfinished, and some looked overdone.  But we all tried.  No one hid in the restroom (the thought occurred to me), or simply refused to participate, or painted a few lines and quit.   I know from other comments I overheard that I wasn't the only "nervous" one, and even some of the painterly people weren't entirely comfortable.  But we all managed to shut the editor brain up long enough to give it a go.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lego Lunacy

There are a lot of Legos in my house.  Elder Son (let's call him Batman) falls in love with complicated, multi-hundred-piece sets, receives said sets for gifts, puts them together, plays with them for a week straight, and then deconstructs them so that they become part of the great Lego continuum, which can turn up anywhere from the dryer to my bowl of cereal. 

Younger Son (let's call him Robin) wants to be exactly like Batman in every way (except, much like the "real" Robin, with three times as much energy and endless not-particularly-comprehensible commentary).  Needless to say, Robin would like to amass just as much Lego as Batman currently has, and if the Lego pieces could all be exactly identical, that would be even better.

Batman recently acquired Lego set 8016, the Star Wars Hyena Droid Bomber, complete with three droid mini-figures.  (Let's leave for another blog a discussion of why, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, they have something named after hyenas.)  Robin immediately became the temporary owner of one of the mini-droids, resulting in the following conversation. I am saving it for documentation in case I need therapy or prescription drugs in the near future.

Squabbling along the lines of "I did not!"  "You did too!" gradually wears down my attempts to ignore it, and I summon Batman and Robin to my presence.
"What's going on?"
"Robin took my droid."
"I did not!"
"You did too!"
"I did not!  This is my droid!"
"It is not!  Mom!  I put my droid down in a very particular place, and Robin took it!"
"I did not!"
"Wait," I say.  "Wait."  I repeat this several more times until the "did not" "did too" chorus again subsides.  "Isn't there another droid?"
"Yes, but that one's mine, and he took it!"
"Did not!"
"Hang on, hang on," I say.  "I mean isn't there another droid.  In the house?  Right now?"
"Yes, but--"
(me, interrupting) "So go find that one, and then you'll both have one."
"No," Batman explains in exasperation, "we have two, but Robin has mine.  I put it down in a very particular spot, and Robin took it."
"Wait," I say.  "You have two droids?"
"Yes."  They both open their hands to reveal two seemingly-identical little, brown droid guys.  
"But Robin has mine."
"Is there some difference between them?" I ask, waiting to be told that the blaster or jet packs or whatever are entirely unique.
"No?" I ask.  "No??"  They shake their heads.  "Give them to me."  I juggle the droid figures around in my open palms as they watch.  "Here."  I give one droid to Batman and one completely and totally identical droid to Robin.  "You're both nutcases," I tell them.  They laugh and run off to lose the droid guys in a Lego pile not so far away.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Our Crazy Connectedness

At the risk of sounding hopelessly ancient, I just want to write for a moment about the amazing connectedness the internet allows us. Not too long after we graduated from college, my former roommates and I decided that every month we would each write a newsy letter about our lives, mail it to one designated person, and that person would make copies and mail them out to everyone. We even had a system for making postage fair. I remember feeling a little sad when we decided we could just email each other our letters. It seemed less personal, and I feared we would be less likely to follow through with writing when there wasn't someone specifically waiting for a letter to include in a packet.

And we have lost that.  I no longer get newsy letters in the mailbox from anyone, and I do miss them.  Really, I get hardly anything in my mailbox at all.  Instead I have the world of blogs, and live journal, and facebook, and it's completely different.  With facebook I can keep up with my high school friend who moved to France.  Without facebook, she'd be lost to me.  With facebook, I know a little more about what is going on with my brother.  He only lives fifteen minutes away, but we're all crazy busy people, and (nonsensically) checking in with family seems like something you can always do tomorrow.   With facebook, I get to follow little pieces of the lives of people I knew and cared about in college, people who were more than acquaintances but not quite dear friends, people I'd be delighted to run into or see at a reunion, but people I wouldn't otherwise be thinking about.  With facebook, live journal, and blogs, I get to keep up with some of the writers I've met through James River Writers over the past year.  I feel fairly confident that I would not have had the courage, or made the time, to continue to forge connections with them if all I'd had was snail mail.  

With blogs, I get to find out what all sorts of people are thinking about all sorts of different things.  I get to peruse the thought-provoking musings of my friends the EDG and Bemused Writer.  I can read Demon Baby and Me or Mothers of Brothers and be comforted that I am not the only one with a wild man four-year-old, strange parenting stories, and a take on motherhood that is a bit on the sardonic side.  I can get a dose of humor from my friend Wildcat or from The Blog of Unnecessary Quotes (which you may have to be an English major to appreciate; no one else I've inflicted it on so far has been amused).  And I can get a supply of information on teaching, reading, and writing that is so close to limitless that it sometimes makes me feel small in the same way that looking at a black sky of endless stars can.

It's different, this connectedness.  In some ways, it's incredible.  I can find out so much, about so many people, and so many things, so easily.  And it can lead to better relationships and deeper understandings, great conversations, and new friendships.  Or it can overwhelm with the trivial and mundane, providing a sense of connecting without any actual effort or relationship-building.  For every well-written, thought-provoking blog, there's a silly quiz I feel compelled to take.  For every scintillating tidbit about someone's life, there's another person telling me what he or she is watching on tv.  Good and not so good.  Silver lining and cloud.  

Connectedness.  Use it responsibly.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great author!

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater... debuts August 1. Preorder today!

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Don't Judge a Book . . .

We've all heard that one, right?  But we do it anyway.  And although the recent phenomenal and surprising success of Susan Boyle offers a great opportunity to write about the ways we take each other for granted, I really meant it in a much more literal (and literary) sense.

Authors don't get to choose their cover art, which should come as no surprise to any reader who has ever scratched her head over a cover that seemed to have nothing to do with the novel inside.  It always comes as a surprise to my middle schoolers, who often describe characters based on the cover and not the writing in the book.

Still, you'd think a publisher would want the most successful, eye-catching cover affordable, right?  That's why books are constantly being reissued with updated covers.

Which of these two books would you be more likely to pick up, for instance?  

The first image is the newer edition, so Penguin is hoping you picked door number one.  Personally, I'm partial to the blue copy because that's the one I own.  And because, if you look very carefully, you can see the shadow of the sea monster rising between the two pillars of rock.  The sea  monster is very, very important.  (The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip: great short fantasy.  One of my favorites.)

How about these two?  
The one on the left or the one on the right?  They're both copies of the fabulous Lament by Maggie Stiefvater.  The left-hand one is the more recent of the two (thank goodness) and definitely the one I would have bought.  This time it's not a case of liking something because I own it.  Much as I love this book, since I own the right-hand cover copy, I pretty much always keep it face down.  (Sorry, Maggie.  But I know you like the left-hand one better, too.  And I've noticed the first image disappearing rather quickly off of websites!  In fact, when I came back to this entry a few weeks after I posted it, both images were of the latter cover!  Ha!  I had to go recopy from library thing.)

Here's another puzzler for you.  If a particular artist is well-known for providing the cover art of a particular author, is it cheating for a publishing company to have that artist do almost the same sort of thing for a different (but similar) author?

Here's a cover for one of Patricia McKillip's books, done by the inimitable Kinuko Y. Craft.  Kinuko Craft has done most of McKillip's recent covers (probably the new one of The Changeling Sea, though it's hard to tell).  This graphic doesn't really do it justice.  The colors are much richer "in person," more like a medieval tapestry.  (See the back of this cover, in better detail,  at the end of the blog.) 

Next is the cover of Juliet Marillier's very enjoyable Wildwood Dancing.  You may be able to tell that it, too, is by Craft.  I certainly could, because when I saw it in the library I immediately snatched it up, thinking I'd somehow missed news of the latest McKillip.  After the shock of discovering that a Craft painting contained the novel of a different author, I thought the novel might have a bit of an uphill battle with me.  However, Marillier's own style and unique take on the tale of the twelve dancing princesses drew me right in.  

Not Patricia McKillip, but I'd be happy to read Marillier any time I'm waiting in between McKillips.  

But the question is, do you think the publisher (Knopf publised Wildwood and Ace usually publishes McKillip) chose Craft to illustrate Marillier's book because her style is somewhat similar to McKillip's and they figured the crossover would be good for sales?  Or was it all a big accident?

Here are a few more of my favorite covers.

This cover totally rocks.  It's from Spirits That Walk in Shadow by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, whom I love.  Gotta say on this one, though I liked it enough to read it twice, I don't think the book rocks quite as much as the cover. 

   This book rocks absolutely just as much as its cover.
 (Savvy by Ingrid Law.)

And, just so you can really appreciate Kinuko Y. Craft . . .

We know we're not supposed to judge by the cover.  But a great cover really gets you off to the right start!