July 15th, 2013

A Purple Straw Hat

Readercon Friday

Both the kids had regular (summer session) school days, R. was still on his sabbatical and we had after-school care lined up for both of them as well. Honestly, if I hadn't left the house to go do something all day, that would have constituted proof that I wasn't a homebody because I was needed there at certain intervals, but because I had agoraphobia or something similar.

Which I really do not.

Anyway. I dropped A. off, stopped briefly at the bank and then headed over to the Burlington Marriott. I had hoped to go the night before, as the kids had been jetlagged enough to be out cold around 8 p.m. (thus allowing me a shot at the 9 pm sessions and possibly the last half of the 8 p.m. sessions). Alas, T. recovered and didn't want to go to sleep until 9. I missed the Readercon book group for _American Elsewhere_, and yet I read the book, easily the worst possible combination.

Anyway. I got to the hotel well in advance of registration opening at 10 a.m., so I got a cup of coffee and then tried to connect to hotel internet, which I did not have a passcode for, and for whatever reason my iPad wasn't able to access cellular data well within the hotel. So back into the backpack with that. The phone's data was working fine (this makes no sense; they share a plan), which was helpful for note taking and googling. I got in line, a different line than pre-registration; it took about the same amount of time to get through each (I had a friend, H. in pre-reg). I didn't pre-register, because at the time I was by no means certain I'd have everything lined up to really attend even one day.

After a nice chat with H. on a bench on a side corridor, we headed off to our first panel, which turned out to be inspired by a Guardian article from a couple years back.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/oct/17/science-fiction-china-mieville

It was not apparent to H. or I from the panel description that that was the case, so we were at a bit of a loss as to what they were talking about. It _was_ entertaining to finally see James Morrow and John Clute were like in person, since I've been dimly aware of them (I don't read Morrow, and of course Clute is sort of unavoidable in his editor/essayist incarnation). It's so hard to predict which people are going to be radically different in person than in writing that it's always risky to predict, but they matched my imagination very, very well.

Our second panel was Gods and Goddesses, partly because H. had an online acquaintanceship with at least one of the panel members. Pretty awesome to see Patricia McKillip. I've never been a fan, but she's been in the background of my reading life, and so many of my friends have loved her work forever and ever it was a real pleasure to be in a room with her. The panel as a whole was a bit meh for me. The themes are certainly familiar ones, and I've read books that covered a lot of what they were talking about -- but my favorites weren't ever mentioned even in passing (Tamora Pierce, obvs, but also Crusie's _Dogs and Goddesses_, Michele Sagara's Elantra series, etc.), which is very okay, of course, but at several points generalizations were made that those books do such a nice job of violating that, well, meh. Nice shout out to PC Hodgell's _Godstalk_ and sequels, which J. would surely have appreciated.

I probably would have gone to the 1 p.m. Predicting the Future and been incredibly annoyed by it, but H. and I had the presence of mind to instead go down to the hotel restaurant and eat. I also had an Ommegang Hennepin, which my Dutch instructor recommended. It was indeed tasty.

At 2 p.m. we went to the Disability panel, which was really interesting. Aging and adult-onset disability (subsequent to military service) were touched upon, along with disability from birth/a young age. The interaction of disability and reproduction was not ever mentioned, a bit of a bummer, but you know, 50 minutes is pretty short when you get right down to it. Nice people, well moderated. Very enjoyable.

At 3 p.m., Characters who break the binary only barely mentioned polyamory, but did get into transitioning in spec-fic (_Cycler_? Got highly mixed commentary, as in, more negative than positive. I haven't read it). Steve Berman was really a ton of fun to listen to, and it's probably safe to say I now have a massive crush on Alaya Dawn Johnson. A lot of the discussion was devoted to how to do research and one of the panelists (possible JoSelle Vanderhooft?) talked about different perspectives based on birth cohort, and how that would likely change the kinds of stories available to publish in the future.

At 4 p.m., my last panel (because I could tell my brain would explode if I tried to stick it out much longer) was Race as a Social Construct. The best for last! And I'm so excited that Andrea Hairston will be a Guest of Honor next year! The discussion moved quickly. No one stepped on each other through interruptions or picky argumentation. They built on each other's ideas and descriptions. They used a combination of their own work and the work of others to illustrate their points. It was so polished and compact and informative, complete with specific things to do and not to do when writing -- Daniel Jose Older's advice to work out the power relationships in the world you are building, _explicitly_ think them through, rather than allow them to seep in from elsewhere, is _so_ good.

I had a great time. The venue was welcoming and functional (that is, enough bathrooms and they were kept clean, there were a couple of options for food -- cheap/quick and sit down and eat, coffee was readily available, water was _always_ available). The rooms were big enough for the people in attendance, at least on Friday. The start 5 after the hour, end 5 before the hour and don't take audience input until the last 10-15 minutes was consistently adhered to. Audio systems worked well. The people running the con were clearly trying throughout to learn from anything that wasn't working perfectly well and there were double-checks built in everywhere (like making sure the guy had the sign for the 5 minute and stop warnings and was seated where the panelists would see him).

If you used to go to cons mostly for the programming, and quit because cosplay and so forth kinda got you down, Readercon is like a Dream Come True. Well, other than the difficult decisions associated with which panel to attend in any given hour long block. I'll be there next year, for at least one day and hopefully more.
A Purple Straw Hat

_The Snow Child_, Eowyn Ivey (kindle)

This month's book group pick for Mayberry, NH (<-- not its real name). I finished this one. Shocking, I know! I wasn't sure I was even going to make it a chapter in at first because Ivey chose to start the book describing the grinding depression of the around 50 year old childless Mabel who moved to Alaska to homestead around 1920 hoping to get away from the sound of children. She'd had one stillbirth and her sister had many children and you know how that can go.

SPOILERS! Run Away! Now! AAAAUUUUIGGGGHHH!

Her husband, Jack, is doing all the farm labor, which traps her indoors with no company and a bunch of screwy ideas about how being around people will be good for her somehow. Just as he's contemplating going to work in the mine, another family sort of adopts them. They are everything our aging childless couple is not, and at around the same time _that_ happens, the couple gets all giddy and makes a snowman, snow child, and then they start seeing a girl flitting around in the area. They don't talk about her much, and when they do, they are disbelieved, but the joy of seeing her and eventually talking to her gets them through a tough winter.

There's a turn for the worse: Jack is dragged by his horse and seriously injured. As they are about to return to their family, the adoptive family shows up and plants their field (along with the woman's assistance, which, predictably, cheers Mabel up. Hey, occupational therapy isn't some kind of joke, people.). Garrett, the youngest, troublemaker boy, thrives with Jack and Mabel and he sticks around for a while. Predictably, as the years pass, he hooks up with the snow child now maiden, Faina, who acquires a backstory to explain her presence and skillset.

But Mabel to Garrett and Faina has always been bookish, and she allows Ivey to bludgeon us with the fact that this is a retelling of a whole bunch of Russian fairy tales about the snow maiden who, when domesticated, dies. And while Ivey allows Mabel to contemplate an alternative ending, that does not happen. Faina has a baby with Garrett, comes down with a fever, runs off into the woods and never returns (presumed eaten by wolves).

Yuck.

The epilogue shows the happy-ish extended family (Garrett, his parents, and the "old couple") raising Jay, Faina's boy.

On the one hand, it's a pretty excellent retelling in a clever setting: Alaska during the '20s, homesteaders selling stuff to the railroad and some of them doing well enough to ship a Model T out to drive around on crappy roads (one of Garrett's brothers). On the other hand, it's a category of fairy tales that I just loathe. Also, Ivey is Not Subtle about what she is doing; this is a plot driven book AND Mabel grew up with a book about the snow maiden and sends away to her sister to get it. Ada writes a long letter with a gloss on the category of fairy tales -- okay, Ivey, we GET IT. Jeez.

It'll be interesting to hear what the group thinks. It may be that I'm hypersensitive to what is necessary to accomplish the author's task.

ETA: Everyone finished the book! This is actually a little unusual. We make sure everyone understands that just because they were unable to finish a book is no reason not to come and participate in the discussion; we want to know why they weren't able to read the book, because we're all busy all the time but we'll make time for a book that is appealing to us, to start, to continue and to finish. A book that turns us off is a book we'll let other things crowd out. It's notable when everyone finished the book. It scored around 4 out of 5 all around. No one but me felt bludgeoned by the look, I'm retelling a fairy tale! aspects; I sort of suspected that what the author was doing was pretty well gauged to the audience and indeed it was.

It's often more difficult to get a good discussion out of a book we all agree on (I had to work to get people to talk about Perrotta's _The Leftovers_, because everyone disliked it so much, albeit for slightly different reasons), than one which sparks strong but different opinions. But I felt like it was easy to talk about this book, even tho we agreed on a lot of aspects of it. It's actually a really enjoyable book group book.

I had been thinking of this as a sort of inverted Julie of the Wolves, written from the non-Julie point of view. I mentioned this, but no one in the group was familiar with the book. (!!!) However, I am definitely not the first person to make the connection; there's at least one Goodreads thread about the similarities. I also thought of this as a frontier novel, and thus like the Little House books. Sure enough:

http://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/lifestyle/20-questions-for-eowyn-ivey-author-of-the-snow-child

"2.What writers did you enjoy reading as a child?

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madeleine L’Engel, Scott O’Dell, Lois Lowry, Gertrude Chandler Warner, C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, Jean Craighead George. And if Harry Potter had been around when I was a child, J.K. Rowling would have made the list."

Scott O'Dell's _Island of the Blue Dolphins_ seems pretty close (another girl living all by herself with no other humans). Gertrude Chandler Warner is a long time fave of my sister, for The Boxcar Children. I also thought of Harry Mazer's _The Island Keeper_, but the tone is so different.
A Purple Straw Hat

The Miscellaneous Stories from Our Trip to the Netherlands

I was really worried about our Efteling Bosrijk reservations. They were supposed to mail us a packet, but all we ever got was what was e-mailed. I e-mailed them shortly before departure and they reassured us that they had received the money and our reservations were in order.

Well, they weren't. And I knew something had happened, because while our arrival was corrected and number of nights was correct, departure was listed as 4-8, which is _August_ 8, and which there was a real risk of misunderstanding as July 4, leaving us stranded for a night. Almost happened. Something very odd happened with the computer system and while it did not cost us any more money, we had to switch cottages half way through our trip. I found that annoying, however, the second cottage was better than the first (dish towels were stocked and it wasn't right next to the garbage bins) altho more distant from the Gate House.

On one of our trips to the Albert Heijn, T. wanted more of the donuts with sprinkles, but they weren't out. There was a man slicing bread, and I asked (sort of -- I forgot the word for sprinkles, which is fairly pathetic, I know), he acknowledged he had some but then kept slicing bread. I didn't get everything he said, but I told T. we would just have to wait until he was done. So the man goes back when he finished with the bread and after a longish wait returns from the cold room with _five large boxes_ of donuts. He then asks _T._ which he wants, and shows him that each box has a different kind of sprinkled donut in it. Yikes! T. sort of froze up, so I asked if we could get a box with one of each in it like had been out the first day, and T. was all over that. The man gave us a big smile, set up the box and handed it over, and T. spontaneously produced dank u wel!

The first couple nights at Efteling, the kids wanted to go back to the "old hotel", the house we had rented in Diever. Eventually, I realized that they were missing the trampoline and the cabinet of toys. Which just goes to show that a cheap vacation with a trampoline, toys and a bicycle can be as good as an expensive visit to an amusement park. At least for my kids. I, personally, kind of liked the rides. Altho Diever was amazingly calm and relaxing.

While waiting for rides, or on the Gondoletta or Pagode, A. and I kept meeting people who had relatives in Canada. There was a woman about my mother-in-law's age (similar hair cut, too) whose 86 year old sister had emigrated to Canada in the 1950s. She had just gone to visit Canada and see her -- in the Yukon! They also went to Ontario; I wasn't sure if it was two sisters or just one.

The man who compared the Pagode to (I think) a giant apple picker, and who pointed out various items on the horizon, has relatives on PEI. It took me a minute to understand what he meant, because he was, quite properly, calling it Prince Edward Island. But of course I never think of it, as everyone out here seems to call it PEI.

Efteling Bosrijk has a Klaas Vaak, a Mr. Sandman character, thematically. They do Dutch story telling in the evening at the Gate House, which I didn't attempt. But in the each cottage, there are night caps, and a little story book, which you can take home as a souvenir. I've got great pictures of A. wearing her night cap one day on rides. They liked to wear them at night, too.

While a lot of adult TV programming from other countries is subtitled rather than dubbed, kids programming is dubbed. A. was not amused; she preferred the Guide channel and listening to the music on it. T. didn't care one way or the other, especially if it was SpongeBob.

And a note about equipment:

I have a LeSportSac Cleo (in the it's a small world line, but you can get it in a million different prints). It is an excellent travel bag. There's a zip pocket that fits a passport really nicely, if you want to comply with laws saying you have to carry it with you at all times, and you don't have a wallet it fits in well (really, who does). It's an over the shoulder bag, light, can carry a lot, isn't bulky if you don't. It does not have a water bottle holder, so if that's a priority, something else would be better.

I have a wallet with a good coin pocket (Big Skinny); they really use coins in Europe, unlike here, where you get them, bring them home and dump them in a jar or whatever. If you don't offer coins, they'll ask if you have them.

I brought my grocery bags (I have the kind that fits into a pouch sewn into the side, and with a mini carabiner to hook them onto something). I used them. I'm glad I brought them.

I _wish_ I had brought wash cloths or a bath scrubber. I kept forgetting to pick one up at the store, too. Wash cloths are not a standard part of the kid in the Netherlands. I knew that and I forgot.

As is typical, no handwashing dish detergent supplied at Efteling Bosrijk, but we still had the clothes detergent (liquid). Wow did that work phenomenally well. Don't get it on your hands though; dries them right out.

I used my Kipling (Hiker Expandable, it's been part of the lineup under one name or another for over a decade now) backpack as a carry-on. Again, no water bottle holder, which is a bummer. But otherwise, a great bag, as it is very light weight, very capacious, compresses if not stuffed full, etc.

I remembered bandaids, neosporin and packed a small knife in checked luggage. They were all useful; I usually forget or decide they aren't necessary and it was so much better having them. Flipflops made nice slippers. The Keens are good for touring. I didn't have a great choice of jackets/sweaters. I had packed thinking it would be hotter than it turned out. I even brought umbrellas and rain coats (but not boots) and do not regret it. I think if I had packed some tights, I would have done better, as I could have worn them with the shorts, and it is well within current style.

I'm always surprised how few people wear caps/hats/brimmed whatever when at amusement parks. It's always been unusual, but Efteling hit a new low. I felt like it was me and about five other men wearing hats and that was it. Weird.

I wore my Casio Baby G; didn't have to worry about it getting wet at the park.

I've forgotten to write about -- and perhaps already forgotten -- a million more details. The kids are non-stop Go To Disney!! these days, altho they seem to understand that it'll be Orlando next time and not the Netherlands. They're still saying "dank u wel" to people sometimes, which is hilarious, because people are not hearing "thank you", come up with all kinds of unpredictable interpretations.