cooking

Brain Flotsam

Here are some things I read or saw this week that I really loved.

First, some people playing Adéle’s “Hello” on a surfboard. (Thanks to Audrey for the tip-off.) I love so much about this: the way the guy on the end spots the cymbal on the ceiling before he nails with with a high kick (high hat! high kick! ha!); the voice of the girl in the middle, standing on a block to be the same height-ish as the others; the [SPOILER AHEAD] way the guy with the longer hair loses his hat from rocking out. It’s a nice five-minute break. 🙂

 

Second, here’s some interesting reading (h/t Dave Nichols) about why U.N.-spec tarps are the way they are. We use these tarps at ShelterBox, in our ShelterBox ShelterKit.

I remembered suddenly the very last breakup meal I had, in January or February of 2000, and how much I paid for it. It was at Le Zoo in Greenwich Village, and I paid $75 for the two of us, because I had invited the guy out, and I also got to say exactly what I wanted to say (we all know how rare that is). After we’d broken up–“I never said I loved you,” he said–he reached for his wallet. “Don’t add insult to injury, M—,” I said. “I invited you out.” But I still got dumped. 🙂

The McSorley’s snack. Last Wednesday I had a friend over. We sat on my floor and she brought over beets on Alouette over a bed of micro-greens; I had a brainwave, New York-related again, that took me back to sawdusty floors at McSorley’s Ale House, where some friends and I used to drink, along with the rest of the world who ever visited New York. Their standard bar snack was sliced white onions, cheddar, and a sleeve of saltines. I did mine with Tilamook extra-sharp and water crackers, but I forgot the mustard. IMG_3587 2

We went to Santa Barbara this weekend. I liked this random collection of textures:

Early in the week I saw this comic-book caption in real life (Ka-POW! Blam!):

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I mean, what the krunk?

That’s all for this week: Tune in next Monday for more brain flotsam.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Book publishing goes all Michael-Jackson on me

There’s been some hue-and-cry lately over Justine Larbalestier’s new book, Liar. It’s not because it’s about a black girl who is a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s a young-adult book about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar; it’s not because it’s about a black girl who’s a compulsive liar who may or may not have committed multiple murders.

No, it’s because of the cover, which shows a white girl.

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Bloomsbury, Larbalestier’s publisher, is quoted here as saying something to the effect of, well, the girl’s a liar. You’re going to believe her about her own race? (Justine’s side of the story is here. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, I suggest you take some time and read her very thoughtful post.)

I haven’t read the book (it’s not out until September in the U.S., and I don’t have an advance reading copy). But I must confess to having spent several hours thinking about this from several different perspectives.

As a Reader

I have a specific problem with seeing movies that are based on books before I’ve read the book. If I didn’t know that a book was based on a movie, I tend to quarantine myself until I’ve read the book, so that I don’t end up with too many pre-arranged images in my head. I feel sorry for those who equate Harry Potter with Daniel Radcliffe, and not with the angel-faced boy that Mary GrandPre dreamed up. I feel equally sorry for everyone who equates Ralph Fiennes with The English Patient, or mistakenly thinks the Czech Republic looks anything like France (“Les Miserables” movie, 1998) . The point is, of course, that when you go to pick up a book, you get to draw your own conclusions about what people look like, what the landscape looks like.

In this case, Bloomsbury runs the risk of screwing with the backbone of the book. The readers were presumably intended to draw our own opinions about whether Micah’s compulsive lying extends to a matter as basic as her identity, her race. Visuals are a powerful thing, and with one photo, Bloomsbury has made the decision for us.

I wrote a review earlier on Christopher Paul Curtis’ Elijah of Buxton, and how cheated I felt to find that the big event that’s mentioned in the jacket copy actually has very little to do with the bulk of the book. If jacket copy can have such an effect, imagine how cheated readers will be to discover that one of this book’s questions is already answered for them, and without them even knowing it. I spent the bulk of Curtis’ book wondering if I had missed something, if “the big event” was metaphor for something else; if I was less of a reader than I thought I was. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers comb through Larbalestier’s book after they’ve read it, looking for clues to Micah’s race that might betray the fact that she’s really white.

As a writer

My parents have always said to me that I can’t forget that I’m an Asian , no matter what happens. You can imagine the kind of effect a statement like that has on a girl trying to fit in. My friends were white, my teachers were white, the pop culture all around me was white–my parents were effectively telling me that I’d always be different. More than once they’ve said that I might *want* to be an Asian kid, but I could forget about it–my black hair and slanted eyes would always give me away. (Later, as I took classes in such high-falutin’ subjects as “The American Dream,” I argued that being American was more a matter of style than substance. Yeah, that didn’t fly, so much.) They were trying to protect my heritage–I get that. But I am and always will be an American kid.

As I grew in my fiction, though, I noticed that I was de-colorizing my books, probably as a way of fighting back. The YA novel I mentioned yesterday is about a girl, just a girl, living in New York City. The middle-grade book is about a girl with a decidedly British bent. One of my downfalls is that I almost never physically describe my main characters. I think all of this is tied up in my hangup about being Asian. At any rate, the book I’m hitching my star to, my third WIP, is about an Asian woman living in New York. It addresses all of the things I’ve learned growing up in two cultures, and I think it’s a better book, a richer book, because of the distinct issues that only a person of color might encounter. My main character is stuck between two worlds, and that makes her struggle real, and a real American story.

I can’t imagine what would happen to my thought process if my future publishers saw fit to slap a white girl on the cover of my book. I mean, the book’s not about a white girl. Why would there be a white girl on the cover? It’s apparently a very real question. I’ve worked too hard to walk the fine line of being Asian American in my writing. I’m loathe to think that my publisher could take the work I’ve put into being an Asian American writer away from me.

My heart breaks for Justine–she’s worked so hard to craft a complicated personality, only to have one important pillar of that personality–its race–swept out from beneath her.

As a person

I try not to think so much about race. A friend of mine once said, in a college class I was taking with her on journalism, “My friends think of me as Holly first, and Asian last, or maybe never.” I’ve always had what she said floating around in my head–I think putting people into a box hampers what you can learn about them.

But my parents were right, to a degree: visuals are powerful, and, whether or not we like, we often make suppositions about people based on race. But I take very special exception to being called something I’m not.

Liar is not a book about a white girl.

And I am not good at math just because I’m Asian.

And Bloomsbury is not in the right here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Bloomsbury tested the cover, but without letting focus groups know what the book was about. It tested very well. Also, there’s been some discussion about whether covers with black kids on them sell as well as covers with white kids, and whether covers with illustrations or type (the Australian version of Liar is below) sell better than covers depicting people.

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I don’t care about any of that. Bloomsbury’s cover doesn’t reflect the subject matter of the book, and this makes me mad.

I don’t even know how to end this post. I think I’ll go and read some Asian-American picture books.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Hey, those are some nice legs

…I speak, of course, of the legs of a triathlon. There are three: swim, bike run. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Swim
Legend goes that triathlon organizers built triathlon to be in the order it is now because the swim is the area that’s the most dangerous. You don’t want tired, zoned-out people flailing around in deep water. It’s bad juju, and bad liability, to boot. So they put the swim first, which means you get on your bike cold and wet. Well, that can’t be helped, and you dry off pretty fast, anyway.
The swim leg is most difficult for many people. Many triathlon organizers, if they make use of cut-offs (times requiring you to be done with specific legs, or the race itself, at a given time) give you the most time to do the swim, proportionately. For instance, I’ll probably finish the swim time in about an hour and a half, if I’m lucky and do everything right. The pros will finish in under an hour. But the swim cutoff time is still a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes.
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(This is what a swim start looks like. Messy, splashy, and fun. Also, confusing.)

Some things to learn
There’s actually not too much to say about the swim; really, it’s just something you have to get through.
More and more sprint race directors have cut the swim to 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile, a distance that even only a fairly decent swimmer can get through in 10 minutes. I know people who have done that distance entirely on their backs, or using the breast stroke. Heck, I know folks who have done 800 meters in a sprint race on their backs. The point is, learn to do the crawl. It’s much more efficient, and you’ll be able to see.
Another skill you’ll need to learn is sighting. It’s the art of looking up every once in awhile to see where you’re going. In a pool, you’ve got the lap lines and the pool wall to guide you. In a murky lake, no such luck. You only need to sight every six or so strokes, but make sure you learn to do it. Getting lost in the swim portion of a triathlon is fodder for a lot of bad jokes at your expense.
Learn, as well, to breathe bilaterally. The theory is that it will help to keep you going in a straight line if you’re not just breathing to one side all the time, but I’ve found that it also keeps my neck muscles loose in a long swim. At the very least, it’s something else to focus on, which helps me to get through the time better.

Some things to expect
When you do get to your first triathlon, be sure to spend some time in the water before the race starts. A lot of people freeze up when they get into the open water. I’m not saying that this is going to happen to *you*, but you might as well prevent it if you can.
Then there’s the actual start of the race.
It feels like this:
Clif Bar on YouTube
No, I’m not kidding. Just be ready for it. There’s a lot of people, all vying for their spot to swim in, and you need to expect that you might be kicked.
You might experience some vertigo coming out of the water. This is normal. Once you get out of the water, start unzipping your wetsuit and struggling out of it. I’ve seen racers apply Body Glide to their lower arms and legs, both under the wetsuit and on the outer of the wetsuit itself, so it’ll slide against itself better and be easier to remove. Do practice taking your wetsuit off a couple of times, at least, in a hurry. You don’t want to be struggling in the transition area and losing valuable time. Don’t forget to pull off your goggles and swim cap.

That’s about it for the swim. Tomorrow, the bike leg.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A triathlon primer

I’ve been involved in multi-sport since 2001, and started doing triathlons back in 2003 as part of a project to get more urban women involved in outdoor sport (“Yes! You *can* have a two-martini dinner and still go for a five-mile run when you get home!”)
At any rate, navigating some of the terminology in triathlon is one of the things I remember doing first, so let’s start from the very beginning.

Base Definition
Technically, a triathlon is any sport that involves three sports, much the way that a biathlon can be anything from a cross-country-skiing-and-shooting-fest to a run-bike-run. But, strictly speaking, triathlon is typically defined as swim-bike-run, in that order.
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(Cartoon images help me to remember which order events are in a tri.)

That Whole “Ironman” Thing
I can’t tell you how many people have asked me, when I’m doing an Ironman, “Wait, a full one?” Sometimes I get the same question when I tell people I’m doing a triathlon. Anything less than a full triathlon would be a bi-athlon, or a running or swimming or biking race. And anything less than an Ironman is a half-Ironman or an Olympic distance or a sprint race. (More on those later.) The term “triathlon” is not interchangeable with “Ironman.”
There is some controversy about the Ironman branding. I was very disappointed to realize that, since the people behind the Ironman brand also operate events at the half-Ironman distance, they are extending the Ironman name to that distance. They’re calling it “70.3” instead (the full distance behind an Ironman is 140.6 miles, exactly), so as not to dilute the brand of “Ironman,” I suppose, but I believe it’s backfired: Now, you can say you’ve done an “Ironman” if you did an Ironman-branded 70.3 event. They encourage it. I find it annoying. I don’t like the idea of making it sound as if I’ve done something I haven’t. For me, that will all change this year once I cross the finish line at Ironman Switzerland, and I suppose that, in the future, the collective memory will forget that Ironman once meant one specific thing, but…eurgh.
Anyway.
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(This logo is fraught with controversy. Okay, just in my head.)

The Distances
Remember a couple of days ago, when I was geeking out to the math involved in a triathlon? Get ready for some more geekspeak.
In order, from shortest to longest, the triathlons are: sprint; Olympic (or International); Half-Ironman (or “middle-distance”); Ironman. Here are the distance breakdowns:
Sprint
Swim: 400-800 yards (0.25-0.5 mile)
Bike: 13 miles
Run: 3.1 miles

Olympic (International)
Swim: .93 miles
Bike: 26 miles
Run: 6.2 miles

Half-Ironman (Middle)
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Run: 13.1 miles

Ironman
Swim: 2.4 miles
Bike: 112 miles
Run: 26.2

How to Get Started
Start small. Find a friendly local race to train for. Enlist some friends to train with you and race with you. Enjoy the process, as you become competent in several disciplines as once and gain confidence and strength. Swim outdoors when you can. There are a ton of training programs online. I used Trinewbies.com for awhile and enjoyed it.
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(These are the girls who were in my virtual network for awhile. Loved doing a triathlon with them.)
Next, shop. Yes, do get triathlon-specific items. You could spend a ton of money, but you don’t have to: invest in a pair of triathlon shorts that will take you straight from swim to bike and through the run. A wetsuit, if your chosen triathlon requires it, or if you live in a colder-weather clime.

Next, set some goals. They can be anything: weight loss; time spent outdoors; a time goal. Just pick something and stick to it.

Finally, pick a nice, casual restaurant in which to celebrate your first triathlon. If you don’t finish the race feeling good enough to have a margarita (okay, I’ll admit this is my own personal benchmark), then…well, try again. Then repeat.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk some about the specific legs of a race.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Manatees are far more interesting than green beans

Certain things make a girl happy. To wit:
1. The children’s section at The White Plains Public Library is the best I’ve ever seen. I loves it! Witness “The Trove”:
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And here’s what you see when you walk into it:
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2. A few days ago there were perfect clouds outside my window. I love the views from my apartment. I wonder how it’ll be in the wintertime, when there isn’t very much foliage and you can just see the highway and the Nordstrom’s.
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3. About a week ago I made a shrimp-and-green beans dish that called for the beans to be sliced on an “extreme diagonal.” Do you know how annoying it is to be told to be extreme in your cooking? At some point I got so extremely diagonal I went vertical.
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4. It’s the last day of school here in New York. The high school across the street is lovely to look at on any day, but the noise of happy kids is hard to beat.
5. My friend Erica is a remarkably talented illustrator. I had her do this piece, of manatees shopping for lettuce, for me. I just got it back from framing. I loves it.
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6. My friend from junior high school, Jo Smith, came to visit with her Grammie Lucy. Lucy is 88 years old and sharp as a tack, nay, sharp as a sharpened tack. She is wonderful. I hope I’m as engaging and as confident as Grammie when I am 88.
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7. My morning glory plant is an idiot. I keep on threading it around my balcony railing, but it insists on making knots around itself. Time for a trellis.
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8. Today the skies are more threatening. I like this weather, but I’m sure the kids would rather a nice sunny day to play in.
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9. Today: reading, writing, a short swim at the end of the day. Nice, nice day. GoooooOOOoood day. Stay. Sit.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

It’s a fine evening to stay in

Mike says that Twiglets are good with beer. So I am indulging in that, as a late afternoon snack, and I think it well deserved: today’s triathlon workout was 5 hours and twenty minutes of cycling followed by 15 minutes of jog, and it’s done now.
I give myself about two hours before I fall asleep on the couch with my Twiglets resting on my belly and an empty beer bottle clutched in my pruny paws. (This is what happens when you don’t hydrate well and then almost fall asleep in the shower.)
Anyway, we’d ridden about an hour and a half north and had come back most of the way to refuel when we saw the above photo. That tree wasn’t there when we rode up, so I’m glad we were not there when it fell right across the path, as I might have actually pee’ed in my pants if I had been anywhere near it. This is nowhere near as exciting as what Jeff Kerkove sawon his training ride today. We only have in common the fact that I bet Jeff would have also pee’ed his bike shorts if he’d witnessed either the tree falling OR that truck veering off the road, right into the bike lane.
We did the ride on the North County Trail, which is all gorgeous and mostly shaded, and a really lovely respite from the hilly course we’ve been riding at Harriman State Park. Here’s Jim on the path:
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Also, the trail is on a rail line that used to run from Westchester County, where we live, straight up through Putnam County the next county up, and there are remnants of the old railroad still around. Here’s the Millwood train station.
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I wish they’d do something with this station. Like, I don’t know, open an ice-cream shop. For bicyclists.
Now I want to do nothing but lie about on the sofa and read YA fiction. I could go do it outside, by our building’s pool, but I am *way* too tired to go downstairs.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.