Trip to Northampton

At the beginning of the month, I visited Northampton, MA for the second time in my life to attend the wedding of my college friend Leland. It was a quick trip at the tail end of my spring break: I flew into Boston early Friday evening and flew out again early Sunday afternoon. When I arrived in Boston, I met up with another college classmate, Ben, and his fiancée. Ben and I both played cello in the college orchestra (at least until I dropped orchestra for folk dance), and he and Leland played in a Swarthmore-famous string quartet. Ben and his fiancée kindly gave me a ride to Northampton.

On Saturday morning, I walked from my hotel up the road to Tart, a bakery in downtown Northampton, and bought a spinach and feta pastry for breakfast. Actually, outside the wedding festivities, nearly all the food I consumed during my trip came from Tart. I’d been there once on my last trip to the area, and I guess it’s now my modus operandi to glom onto a bakery for all my sustenance needs when I travel for a wedding.

Later in the morning, I walked back up the hill for the wedding ceremony. There was a protest going on outside a bank downtown, and a woman handed me a leaflet, telling me it explained why they were protesting, to wit, to draw attention to banks’ contribution to the climate crisis. The leaflet encouraged me to move my money out of banks and into credit unions and tell my bank why I was doing so. By this time, the woman had moved on, so I couldn’t tell her all my money was already in credit unions and she could give my leaflet to someone else.

First Churches of Northampton, the day after the wedding

The wedding was at First Churches of Northampton. It was a sunny day, if a bit brisk still at the time of the ceremony, and there were a few guests milling about in the yard in front of the church. I recognized some people. I went inside and signed the guestbook. I ran into Leland and gave them a hug. I ventured into the sanctuary, which was high-ceilinged and wide, with two aisles. As I was admiring the space and contemplating where and with whom to sit, I noticed someone I knew standing near me: it was Kristine, a fellow phonologist. As with a number of the other guests, I hadn’t anticipated seeing her, but as soon as I did, it made sense that she was there. We went and found seats in a pew together and listened to the prelude. The organ was at the front of the sanctuary, and the big pipes were painted in dusky Scandinavian colors (that description might only make sense to me).

The processional began, and various family members advanced in sets down the two aisles. While we were looking around, Kristine and I noticed Ivy, another linguist, sitting in the left section of pews, and we all waved. Then it was time to rise for Leland and Bryn’s entrance; the person sitting in front of me shot up and clasped his fist over his heart. Leland and Bryn also processed in parallel down the two aisles.

I heard someone joke afterwards that the ceremony was essentially a concert with some wedding rituals thrown in; there was indeed a lot of music, which was fitting for the couple. First, a crowd of Sacred Harp singers, many of whom I knew or recognized, sang Harmony from The Shenandoah Harmony; Ivy led. The officiant spoke some words about Leland and Bryn and the things they had in common, including the fact that they both really like ringing bells. This provoked laughter from the assembly.

A trio of friends sang the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (split across two occasions in the service) from Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. The second occasion was communion. Later, an octet including Leland’s mother and sister and a couple other people I knew sang a hymn, and toward the end of the service the congregation got to sing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (the Hyfrydol setting). And the recessional was the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. The bulletin invited us to listen for English change ringing on our way out of the church, and indeed, there were four ringers on handbells outside. I heard more than one person confirm that they were ringing a whole quarter peal (no promises about the accuracy of my change ringing terminology).

I had sort of skipped over the receiving line on my way out of the sanctuary, so later on I went back to greet the newlyweds and their close family. I also said hi to other people I knew, like Ivy (and I met her partner in person for the first time, as opposed to on Zoom). Among the guests were other Swarthmore alumni, folkies, people I met on my first trip to Northampton, and various combinations thereof. There was also Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist!

Eventually, we migrated around the corner to the Hotel Northampton and into the brick-walled, low-ceilinged Wiggins Tavern for a cocktail reception. I talked to Sophia, the string quartet’s first violinist, and Becky, Lorelei, and Daria, who were Leland’s roommates at the time of my last visit (Becky also went to Swarthmore). A bell ringer and I mutually recognized each other in a hazy sort of way and ultimately concluded we must have met the day I hung out with the band in Boston. While we were talking, Myles, another Swarthmore alum/linguist/singer/bell ringer, etc., came over. Apparently I have this thing where I introduce myself as a linguist and academic to strangers at weddings, and then someone who knows me brings up my novels. Myles and I alluded to my still fledgling attempts to become the next Donna Jo Napoli. He also mentioned that he and I had once met up in Istanbul (we literally found each other in the Hagia Sophia, in fact, though that was after we each knew the other was in the city). A little later, I brought some fruit back to the table where my acquaintances were sitting, and Lorelei laid out the Hamp/Noho divide for us.

Next, we transitioned to the bright and festive ballroom, where Leland and Bryn’s friend Maia served as master of ceremonies. I was seated at a table with Becky and Lorelei, among others. There was also Nicole, yet another Swarthmore alum/singer, etc., who I had run into by accident the last time I was in Northampton and who, on that occasion, had given me a mushroom in a paper bag to deliver to Leland. Then there was Mel, another folkie I’ve known since my Swarthmore days. Plus additional guests with Swarthmore, singing, linguistics, and other connections (sometimes all three). I sometimes (creepily? I hope not) knew more about them than they probably knew about me.

There were multiple brunch buffets with things like eggs Benedict and waffles with strawberries and cream. There was also a very nice playlist on in the background, and every now and then someone at our table would say, Hey, I have this album (that was me), or make a remark about Crowfoot’s flutist, or complain about a singer’s ungrammatical distortion of a line from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” Mel also told me from across the table that they’d read one of my books after finding it in a little free library, and I felt like I’d unlocked an achievement! It was somewhat unclear which book they’d read, but I think we concluded it was Sparkers?

After people had mostly eaten, Maia orchestrated the succession of toasts. We had flutes of champagne to raise in honor of the couple. The parents and grandparents told some amusing stories from Leland and Bryn’s distant and not-so-distant pasts. I think it was also one of them who asked guests to raise their hands if they were Sacred Harp singers, bell ringers, etc. There was a considerable contingent of change ringers in the back of the ballroom, and someone (Maia?) warned everyone else not to approach them unless we wanted a lecture about ringing. The whole string quartet came up to give a toast. At our table, we speculated about whether there would be dancing or not–there was, after all, a small dance floor–but there was none that I witnessed.

I wandered a bit to talk more with Ivy, her partner Gabe, and Kristine, and then after arranging to ride with Nicole to the evening event, I headed back to my hotel. I stopped by Tart to buy a lox and goat cheese sandwich to eat for dinner later (it was excellent).

Early that night, Nicole picked me up, and we drove to the Artifact Cider taproom in nearby Florence for the Shenandoah Harmony singing. Yes, I brought my wicker book all the way from Grinnell for the wedding. It was my first shape note singing since the Before Times. At the cidery, Leland and Bryn were still in their wedding finery while a lot of other people, including me, had dressed down. I drifted over to a table where Ivy, Gabe, Gretchen, and a few others were drinking ciders and eating a sheet pan of nachos.

The singing soon began, and I shared my book with Gabe. Becky gave a very quick lesson on how to deal with the shapes for the non-Sacred Harp singers in attendance (they were definitely in the minority). Despite having owned the book for years, I haven’t sung much out of The Shenandoah Harmony (it’s the newest shape note book), so most of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. A lot of the ones we sang were good! And there were some incredible texts. Like these words from Isaac Watts, in Converse: “I’m tired of visits, modes, and forms / And flatt’ries paid to fellow worms. / Their conversation cloys, / Their vain amours and empty stuff” and “Fly from my thoughts, all human things / And sporting swains, and fighting kings, / And tales of wanton love; / My soul disdains that little snare, / The tangles of Amira’s hair”–I mean, who’s Amira?! Or how about this text by Charles Wesley: “Ah! lovely appearance of death! / What sight upon earth is so fair? / Not all the gay pageants that breathe / Can with a dead body compare. / With solemn delight I survey / The corpse when the spirit is fled, / In love with the beautiful clay, / And longing to lie in its stead.” That’s not one the mainline Protestant hymnals have kept around.

Leland and Bryn circulated a bit during the singing, and when there was a break, I managed to hand-deliver my wedding card to Leland, since I’d failed to find the appropriate place to leave it at the reception. I also talked to Ivy and Gabe about my research and the job market and learned that Gabe went to the same tiny college as the president of Grinnell.

I made plans with Ben & Co. for our journey back to Boston, and then Nicole dropped me back off at my hotel. The next morning, I went back to Tart (third visit!) for breakfast and provisions: I bought a pain au chocolat and a savory biscuit. According to its website, my hotel was not currenty serving breakfast, but I’d discovered on Saturday morning that this was false; there was quite a comprehensive buffet. So I decided to keep my pastries for later and brought some breakfast back to my room. But then, Leland invited me to an originally family-only brunch at their and Bryn’s house. The quartet was going too, so I could just leave for Boston from there. And unexpectedly, I’d have the chance to see Leland one more time.

The former St. John Cantius Church, near Leland and Bryn’s house

I checked out and walked over to Leland and Bryn’s new house. They had, in Leland’s words, a million quiches and a million leftover desserts from the wedding reception, plus oatmeal and fruit. Later, a giant order of amazing-looking pastries arrived. I was kind of sad I’d already eaten breakfast because everything looked really good, but I wasn’t hungry. I sat in the living room with the quartet and partners, as well as Leland and Bryn when they weren’t greeting various relatives. Their extremely cute cats, Lentil and Miso, both brown (or gray?) tabbies, made several appearances.

Soon, it was time to leave for Boston. We did a sort of Minnesota goodbye (you know, first you get up saying it’s time to leave, then you spend at least ten minutes talking in the hall, then you have hugs in the entryway, then you have hugs in the driveway…), and then Ben, his fiancée, Amy (the second violinist), and I hit the road. I had the earliest flight, so they dropped me off at the airport before embarking on their sightseeing and cannoli-acquiring adventure. I ate my pain au chocolat on the sidewalk before heading inside for the airport rigmarole.

So, it was a swift trip, but it was a lovely wedding, and I hope I’ll get to visit again someday, hopefully in even better times.

A Chilly Minnesota Spring

I’m in Minnesota for spring break just now, but it hasn’t been a very warm spring break, on the whole. At the very beginning, there was one balmy day, and I took advantage of the nice weather to walk around Lake Harriet. The ice on the lake is getting soft and slushy, and there are some patches of open water along the shoreline. Here are some Canada geese–scoping out nest sites?–as well as other fowl flying low in the sky.

One day, my mother and I had lunch at FIKA, the restaurant inside the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. We had kroppkakor (potato dumplings filled with spiced pork) with crème fraîche and lingonberries and a semla (a cardamom-flavored roll filled with almond paste and topped with whipped cream). They were both excellent.

Kroppkakor

Semla

Another day, we made an excursion to Keefer Court, the pre-eminent Chinese bakery of Minneapolis, which after all these years I’d still never been to. The side of the building is painted with a cute mural depicting birds and flowering trees.

Otherwise, life is busy! I hope to be back in April with some more exciting posts!

Middle Grade Fantasy About Fighting Injustice

Shepherd is a new book discovery website that lets you browse lists of books on a particular theme or topic (e.g. middle grade books about unlikely friendships, zombie books, etc.). Each list is written by an author who has a connection to the topic and personally recommends five titles that fit the theme. When Shepherd invited me to put together a list, I decided to recommend books in the same vein as my two middle grade novels Sparkers and Wildings, that is, children’s fantasy novels about fighting social injustice. You can read my recommendations over on Shepherd (and maybe you’ll find you enjoy list-hopping!).

If you want some behind-the-scenes tidbits: one of the titles on my list, Ptolemy’s Gate, is the third book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which I read as an actual middle grader (I remember really wanting the first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, when I saw it in a book fair catalogue–and I got it!). Years later, after I’d written Sparkers, it struck me that it probably showed the influence of Stroud’s trilogy. The other four books on my list are much more recent titles, all of which I read as an adult. In terms of tone and theme, I think The Troubled Girls of Dragomir AcademyA Wish in the Dark, and the Bartimaeus Trilogy, for that matter, are the most similar to Sparkers and Wildings, so if you liked my books, I think you’d like those, and vice versa!

Finally, my Shepherd list says “best books,” but really they’re just favorite books (and books that I’ve actually read, of course!). In assembling the titles, I had to make some decisions, and two books that I considered including were Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Daniel José Older’s Dactyl Hill SquadThe Girl Who Drank the Moon won the Newbery and is in many ways a fairy tale, but it does have things to say about oppression and political power. I’ve only read the first book in the Dactyl Hill Squad series, but it stars Black and brown kids in an alternate Civil War-era United States–with dinosaurs!

Winter Amusement

It’s been fairly cold in the wintry north since the turning of the year (though somehow the East Coast still gets the best snowstorms). Back in January, while I was still on winter break, my family enjoyed some distinctly wintertime activities. First, my brother works in the theater world, and his home base, the Zephyr in Stillwater, built their second ice maze this year. As a sound designer, he was in charge of curating the playlist. I kept suggesting film scores by Prokofiev, but I’m not sure he took me up on any of my picks (I mean, why wouldn’t you want visitors to your riverside ice maze listening to the soundtrack to the battle on ice from Alexander Nevsky?). Anyway, we visited the maze on a Sunday evening, when colored lights illuminated the giant blocks of transparent ice. I also went down the big, slippery ice slide.

Ice dragon guarding the maze

Braving the maze

Minnesota pride

Later, we went cross-country skiing at Hyland Lake Park Reserve for the first time in several years. It was a warmer day, a good day to spend outdoors. I should really ski more often!

Back on the ski trail

They’re hard to spot, but there are two deer in this picture

A sky of soft-edged clouds

The Books I Read in 2021

In 2021, I read 106 books, up from 69 in 2020. I had a feeling my numbers would be up! I guess 2021 was a good year for reading. (2022 might not be, since this coming semester I’ll be teaching three courses for the first time ever.) I suspect serving on the Kids All Iowa Reads Committee contributed to my increased book intake since I read so many middle grade novels for that selection process. I also started the year off strong with a stack of SFF my brother had given me for Christmas, and I ended the year with some highly anticipated SFF reads as well.

Here are the books I read in 2021, rereads bolded, with links to any related blog posts:

Dread Nation Justina Ireland
Echo North Joanna Ruth Meyer
The Lost Future of Pepperharrow Natasha Pulley
A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine
Prairie Lotus Linda Sue Park
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Kwame Mbalia
Rick Alex Gino
Serpentine Philip Pullman
Gideon the Ninth Tamsyn Muir
Indian No More Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell
Clean Getaway Nic Stone
From the Desk of Zoe Washington Janae Marks
Efrén Divided Ernesto Cisneros
Closer to Nowhere Ellen Hopkins
More to the Story Hena Khan
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Jessica Kim
Pippa Park Raises Her Game Erin Yun
Fireheart Tiger Aliette de Bodard
When Stars Are Scattered Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed
The Year We Fell From Space Amy Sarig King
New Kid Jerry Craft
Class Act Jerry Craft
Snapdragon Kat Leyh
Race to the Sun Rebecca Roanhorse
Snapdragon Kat Leyh
The Magic Fish Trung Le Nguyen
The Only Black Girls in Town Brandy Colbert
A Wish in the Dark Christina Soontornvat
The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal
The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman
Dragon Pearl Yoon Ha Lee
Girl Mans Up M-E Girard
Other Words for Home Jasmine Warga
The Miraculous Jess Redman
All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders
The List of Things That Will Not Change Rebecca Stead
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe Carlos Hernandez
The House That Wasn’t There Elana K. Arnold
The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane Kate O’Shaughnessy
The Barren Grounds David A. Robertson
Things You Can’t Say Jenn Bishop
Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe Carlos Hernandez
For Black Girls Like Me Mariama J. Lockington
Serena Says Tanita S. Davis
Pet Akwaeke Emezi
Itch Polly Farquhar
All Systems Red Martha Wells
The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez Adrianna Cuevas
Things in Jars Jess Kidd
The Fountains of Silence Ruta Sepetys
The Raven Tower Ann Leckie
Rascal Jean-Luc Deglin, translated by Edward Gauvin
The Fated Sky Mary Robinette Kowal
Ghost Talkers Mary Robinette Kowal
The Bird King G. Willow Wilson
Shine Lauren Myracle
Fireheart Tiger Aliette de Bodard
Un monde à portée de main Maylis de Kerangal
Firekeeper’s Daughter Angeline Boulley
Winterkeep Kristin Cashore
This Is How You Lose the Time War Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Raymie Nightingale Kate DiCamillo
Beautiful Music for Ugly Children Kirstin Cronn-Mills
You Know I’m No Good Jessie Ann Foley
Every Color of Light Hiroshi Osada & Ryōji Arai, translated by David Boyd
Don’t Go Without Me Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Anaïs Nin: Sur la mer des mensonges Léonie Bischoff
La Manticore Maylis Vigouroux
The Silence of Bones June Hur
Heretics Anonymous Katie Henry
Dig A.S. King
Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories Naomi Kritzer
Upright Women Wanted Sarah Gailey
Magic for Liars Sarah Gailey
Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II Andrea Warren
Show Me a Sign Ann Clare LeZotte
The Hazel Wood Melissa Albert
Louisiana’s Way Home Kate DiCamillo
Are You Listening? Tillie Walden
Legendborn Tracy Deonn
A Bestiary Lily Hoang
Midsummer’s Mayhem Rajani LaRocca
Letters from Cuba Ruth Behar
Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo
American Betiya Anuradha D. Rajurkar
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph Brandy Colbert
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter Erika L. Sánchez
Hey, Kiddo Jarrett J. Krosoczka
We Are Not Free Traci Chee
The Daughters of Ys M. T. Anderson & Jo Rioux
Dancing at the Pity Party Tyler Feder
Fighting Words Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Spin With Me Ami Polonsky
In the Role of Brie Hutchens Nicole Melleby
Please Ignore Vera Dietz A.S. King
Light from Uncommon Stars Ryka Aoki
This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Kenneth Oppel
The Unbroken C. L. Clark
Tye Leung Schulze: Translator for Justice Dawn K. Wing
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Becky Albertalli
She Who Became the Sun Shelley Parker-Chan
The Parker Inheritance Varian Johnson
Playing the Cards You’re Dealt Varian Johnson
The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy Anne Ursu
Dactyl Hill Squad Daniel José Older
The Ship We Built Lexie Bean

The Numbers:

  • Total books read: 106
  • Books in French: 3 (3%) (all thanks to Isabelle)
  • Books that were not prose novels: 28 (26%) (Prose non-fiction/memoir/essays: 2; Novels in verse: 2; Short stories/short story collections: 3; Graphic novels/comics including non-fiction: 15; Picture books: 1; Novellas: 5)
  • Books read in translation: 2 (2%) (French to English: 1; Japanese to English: 1)
  • Books read for the first time: 97 (92%)
  • Books read not for the first time: 9 (8%)
  • Books by category (as decided by me): Adult: 28 (26%); Young Adult: 28 (26%); Middle Grade: 49 (46%); Picture Book: 1 (1%)

These next categories are identity-based and therefore necessarily approximate. How someone identifies can’t always be deduced from a name, an author photo, or even a set of pronouns, and not everyone chooses to identify publicly as anything, which is fine. Consequently, this isn’t guaranteed to be 100% accurate, but I’m still curious about my own reading habits, so only take this for what it’s worth.

  • Books written by women (where at least one co-author, co-editor, or contributor is a woman): 83 (78%)
  • Books written by self-identified trans or non-binary authors: 10 (9%)
  • Books by authors of color: 47 (44%)

Finally, my favorite books of 2021, excluding rereads (I picked these on New Year’s Day without thinking about it too hard and…came up with a lucky seven again! But these choices were borderline capricious and I loved many books this year, so don’t ascribe too much meaning to this):

  • A Memory Called Empire Arkady Martine
  • Snapdragon Kat Leyh
  • The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane Kate O’Shaughnessy
  • Winterkeep Kristin Cashore
  • Light from Uncommon Stars Ryka Aoki
  • She Who Became the Sun Shelley Parker-Chan
  • The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy Anne Ursu

2021 in Review

Oookay, well, I’m not sure there’s much purpose to evaluating how “good” a year was anymore because, from what I’ve seen, the consensus is that if 2020 was a dumpster fire, 2021 was…a bigger dumpster fire? It got off to a strong start in my country with an insurrection in our nation’s capital right after the new year. On a brighter note, I am immensely grateful for effective vaccines and my ability to have access to them. They have made the pandemic somewhat less nerve-wracking, even as it wears on.

I said 2020 felt long; 2021 has also felt very long. But here are the highlights of my year:

I wish all three of my readers (:P) a safe and healthy 2022! May it be a year of progress and hope!

Fjallsárlón, Iceland

San Francisco IV

In mid-November, before the latest twist in the pandemic, I traveled to northern California for a friend’s wedding. (The title of this post is a reference to my actually rather frequent trips to San Francisco. This was my second trip to the Bay Area since I graduated from UCLA in 2019; by comparison, I have not yet been back to Los Angeles, except for transferring at LAX on my way to Honolulu.) After teaching on Friday morning, I drove up to the Twin Cities and caught a flight to San Francisco. I arrived late in the evening and caught a shuttle to a nearby hotel. The next morning, I picked up the first car I’d ever rented by myself and headed south. (I would like to brag that I managed to drive everywhere I wanted to go the whole weekend without GPS and without getting lost!)

Retro charm in Aptos

My destination was Aptos, a little seaside town near Santa Cruz. I visited UC Santa Cruz as a prospective grad student years ago, and the road through the wooded mountains seemed familiar. When I arrived in Aptos, I left my rental car at the hotel and set out in search of lunch. After cutting through the parking lot, labyrinth, and cemetery of the adjacent Catholic church, I discovered, in the nearby strip mall, Companion Bakeshop. I could tell by sight that their viennoiseries were good, so I went in and bought a goat cheese-arugula-pickled onion on baguette sandwich. It was excellent. I resolved to return the next day for breakfast pastries. If you ever find yourself in Aptos (or Santa Cruz), I absolutely recommend this bakery.

Almond croissant from Companion Bakeshop

Happily, I was able to check into my room early and put on my wedding-appropriate clothes (my backup plan was to change outfits in the hotel’s public restrooms). The wedding was at Sand Rock Farm, a venue tucked up in the woods. We guests arrived by shuttle. It was the wedding of a high school friend of mine: Dustin and I both went to grad school in the LA area, and we also used to meet up around the holidays in Minnesota. I was 99% sure I would be the only person from high school in attendance, and I knew the odds were low I would know anyone else at the wedding besides Dustin’s mother. This turned out to be true, but I still had a good time. During the pre-ceremony mingling, I met some of Dustin’s grad school friends. While we were standing around chatting with glasses of lemonade or iced tea, one grad school friend opposite me said, “Dog,” and I looked down to see a wolfhound pressed against my red dress. His name was Pirate.

Redwood (?) illuminated by the late afternoon sun at Sand Rock Farm

The ceremony was unique and lovely, and the rest of the evening was enjoyable. I met Dustin’s now-wife, Jiejing, for the first time. Some of the speeches over dinner made me realize just how poor my Mandarin comprehension has become. Dustin and Jiejing were very gracious hosts. I hadn’t expected to have much time to talk to Dustin, seeing as it was his wedding day and he had all sorts of family and friends in attendance, but we actually did get to talk. I enjoyed meeting some of the other guests too (did everyone work in machine learning except the veterinarian specializing in exotics?).

Flying pelican off the pier at Seacliff State Beach

The next morning, I returned to Companion Bakeshop for an almond croissant, a ham and cheese croissant, and a kouign amann. Then I walked down to Seacliff State Beach. Jiejing had recommended it, though I probably would have gone anyway. I walked out onto the pier, the end of which was closed off by a chicken-wire fence, presumably to keep humans away from the flocks of roosting cormorants and pelicans. I left the pier and walked across the sand toward the water. I watched the waves for a while; I was especially amused by the train of waterfowl swimming parallel to shore that would go bobbing over the incoming breakers like so many rubber duckies. Before leaving the beach, I ate my almond croissant for breakfast; it was scrumptious.

Over they go!

I left Aptos and drove back up to San Francisco, where I ditched my rental car and took BART to Chinatown. In St. Mary’s Square, I ate my ham and cheese croissant for lunch. It was also scrumptious. I checked out the memorial plaque to Chinese American soldiers who died in the World Wars, the Korean comfort women memorial, and the huge statue of Sun Yat-Sen.

“Comfort Women” Column of Strength, by Steven Whyte, in St. Mary’s Square

I walked up Grant Avenue, keeping an eye out for Chinese bakeries where I fully intended to buy egg tarts. After a little bit of reconnaissance, I went on to City Lights Booksellers and skulked around the basement between the children’s/YA and SFF sections until I finally settled on P. Djèlí Clark’s novella The Black God’s Drums.

Justice for Vicha Ratanapakdee mural in Chinatown

After buying my book, I turned the corner back into Chinatown, ready for egg tarts. I also checked out a number of holes in the wall selling dim sum items out of huge steamers, but some of them had lines out the door, and I also didn’t want dumplings right then, and I wasn’t sure hot food would keep till my next hotel. So I just went back to Eastern Bakery for egg tarts.

Eastern Bakery in Chinatown

The bakery wasn’t open to the public; there was a man taking orders behind a plastic table set up on the sidewalk, blocking the entrance to the shop. I was a little worried when I got in line because something I heard made me think there might not be any egg tarts left, but that wasn’t the case. I asked for three, and the man told me it was four for $9, so without thinking very hard I said sure. Then he asked whether I could wait ten minutes or so for them, and I said yes. I also ordered a baked pork bun. The man told me I could sit on a nearby bench to wait for the egg tarts, so I did. While I waited, a Chinatown tour led by a white man came by; he told his group that Eastern Bakery made the best mooncakes in the world. Eventually, my egg tarts were ready; I took the paper bag with the fresh tarts hot out of the oven and went back to the bench to eat one right away. Before I was finished, the man approached me from behind and asked me if it was good. I was so startled I said something incoherent and ungrammatical. I meant to say it was good.

Waiting for egg tarts in Chinatown

I left Chinatown for Glen Park, to meet up with my friend Katherine and her toddler son Walter. We went on a walk around the neighborhood in search of interesting vehicles and then returned to their backyard to ferry pinecones from bench to flowerbed. Walter warmed up to me and even said my name, which was very cute. I had bought several egg tarts thinking I’d offer a couple to them, knowing that they might not like or want them (pandemic times being what they are). Indeed, Katherine turned them down, which meant I still had three egg tarts all for me. This was not really a problem.

Passionflower in Glen Park

After sundown, I headed further north, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Rohnert Park, where I’d booked my last hotel. I ate the pork bun for dinner. The next morning, I ate my last pastry from Aptos, the kouign amann, which I think had gotten a bit stale. Then I went to Dhammadharini Monastery in nearby Penngrove to visit my friend Kaccāyana, who as of this fall is a fully ordained bhikkhunī. We walked over to the campus of Sonoma State University and wandered back into the woods, where we sat on a fallen tree across a dry streambed and talked.

When it was getting toward lunchtime for the monastics, we returned to the monastery, and I left to go back to San Francisco. After returning my rental car, I went to investigate whether there was a food truck outside the terminal, and indeed there was! It had an extremely generic, non-descript name, but it turned out to serve Filipino and Mexican food. The cook seemed to be Filipino, and the more Filipino-oriented dishes sounded appealing, so I ordered the teriyaki chicken plate with garlic rice and lumpia. I ate it on the sidewalk; it was delicious.

My teriyaki chicken plate with garlic rice and lumpia

All in all, it was a very successful trip. I got to see one high school friend, one college friend, and one grad school friend (in order!). I feel lucky to have made it out there to see all those people. Now I expect to hunker down for the winter, and I hope that as the year comes to a close you are also safe, healthy, and warm.

Sheree Renée Thomas and Zine Making at Grinnell

Every year, the Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize recognizes “individuals who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.” The prize is awarded in October, when the recipient visits campus for Grinnell Prize Week. I know the prize has gone to many cool people doing amazing things to make the world a better place, but I’ve never actually paid much attention to the Grinnell Prize Week events, until this year. The 2021 recipient of the Grinnell Prize is Victoria Jones of Memphis, who founded and is the executive director of TONE, an organization that “support[s] and uplift[s] Black artists and Memphis by incubating Black arts innovation, challenging the status quo of the Memphis art scene, and mobilizing Black land ownership, and economic independence.” In perusing the e-mail describing the Grinnell Prize Week events on campus, I noticed a panel entitled Conjuring Futures: Black Women Writers Reimagining the World. One of the panelists was Sheree Renée Thomas, an SFF author and the new editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction, a major speculative fiction magazine. My reaction was, OMG, Sheree Renée Thomas is coming to Grinnell?! I immediately put this panel on my calendar, along with a zine-making workshop the next day.

On Saturday, I arrived at the panel early, hoping to get a good seat. In fact, I was the first to arrive! The panel ended up starting very late because the previous event, a workshop on local community and movement building, ran over by a lot. Sheree Renée Thomas was actually the first panelist to arrive, and she asked students to raise their hands by class year before asking whether there were any faculty present. I was the only one to raise my hand, and she asked me what I taught. That said, the president of the college also attended the panel, so it wasn’t as though I was the only non-student. Victoria Jones, the Grinnell Prize winner, arrived from the workshop, and the third panelist, author Jamey Hatley, joined by video conferencing.

Jones named right off the bat that she was emotionally devastated from the previous session, and maybe that set the tone for the whole panel, I don’t know. It wasn’t quite what the label on the tin said (though Thomas talked a bit about Octavia Butler’s work and her own relationship to and friendship with Butler), but it was still good. After some readings from Thomas and Hatley, the panelists took turns talking at length, evoking the history of Black Americans and the traditions they grew up with and the present ills of our racism-riddled country. They also talked to each other: during the panel, Thomas and Hatley, who have been close for decades, discovered they both had connections to Mound Bayou, Mississippi, an independent Black community I had never heard of before. Thomas held forth about how absolutely vital it was for Black creators and movement builders to fireproof what they brought into the world because if history tells us anything it’s that the oppressors will tear down anything good they make, leaving them to start over again. There was this narrative of fitful progress, of Black success meeting with destructive backlash, making fireproofing crucial. I found the session wholly worthwhile, but it was heavy; there was a weight in that space.

On Sunday, I returned to campus for Scraps: A Workshop on Zine Making and Visual Storytelling with Nubia Yasin, another Memphis-based artist and activist. Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for zines, and I hadn’t been to a zine-making workshop since the last one Isabelle and I participated in at the West LA public library. The session took place in the rotunda of the performing arts center, and this time I believe I was the only non-student in attendance, at least from the Grinnell College community. Victoria Jones, Sheree Renée Thomas, and other Grinnell Prize Week presenters also came to the workshop. Nubia Yasin, the leader of the session, first had us write down our answers to three questions: Who are you? What story are you wanting to tell? What does that story look like? Then she set us loose on the table of art supplies, though not before clarifying that our stories didn’t need to be about who we were but would inevitably be shaped by our identities.

On and around the table were markers, colored pencils, glue sticks, and bins of collage materials, including magazines, street maps, calendars, wallpaper, cardstock, scrapbooking paper, and a bin of irregular triangles cut from thin metallic gold or silver cardboard. I’d been considering making a one-page zine about how I ended up becoming a linguist, but Yasin told us that we actually weren’t going to be making the whole zine but rather just one page of a zine, which would clearly communicate what the whole zine was about. I wasn’t so sure about this, and I considered ignoring the workshop directions and just making a whole zine, but in the end I decided to just go with it.

I found a piece of folded white cardstock, like a blank greeting card, and I took some colored pencils in shades of blue, green, and purple, and I started drawing overlapping clouds in different shapes and orientations. I decided my zine “page” would be a sort of identity/geneaology piece, so I wrote the surnames of my eight great-grandparents (four in English, four in Chinese) around the four sides of the front of my card. Then I went bin diving again and happened upon a street map of the Twin Cities suburbs. What were the odds! I found the street I grew up on and carefully tore out a thumbprint-sized piece of map including that street. Then I glued it in the center of my card. I still had some time, so I opened the card and started to draw some colored pencil flowers inside. I started with a lotus, but I drew it in blue, and I was working on some forget-me-nots when Yasin announced that it was time to display our zine pages at our tables and walk around to take in everyone’s work. It was fun to see what everyone had created. A lot of people had gone with a larger format than me, and there were a lot of collages, which made sense, given the available materials. Someone, a student, I think, even asked to take a picture of my zine/card!

I’d also been hoping to talk to Sheree Renée Thomas, however briefly, over the course of the weekend, so I finally mustered the courage to approach her. I did tell her I was a writer as well as a linguist and had thus been very excited the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction was coming to Grinnell, but after our short conversation, I realized I’d forgotten to introduce myself! Ah, well. I just need to write some new short stories to submit to her.

Middle Grade Book Pairings

This calendar year, I’ve been serving on the Kids All Iowa Reads Committee, a group of mostly librarians (I’m one of the few non-librarians) who select a single children’s book (as well as a shortlist of finalists) for statewide programming. There are also Adult and Teen All Iowa Reads selections. The 2021 Kids All Iowa Reads title is Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai, and the 2022 title was selected yesterday and will be revealed very soon!

In any case, as a result of my committee membership, I’ve read more middle grade literature than usual in 2021, and in reading so many books, I noticed some interesting connections between stories. This post presents pairings of MG books that share something in common.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks and Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca: Both feature girl bakers and a baking contest at a local bakery.

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park and Letters from Cuba by Ruth Behar: These two historical fiction titles feature girl dressmakers who face discrimination in their new homes.

Clean Getaway by Nic Stone and The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane by Kate O’Shaughnessy: Both of these books are about interracial road trips in a Winnebago with an older woman at the wheel.

More to the Story by Hena Khan and A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat: These are MG retellings of classics (Little Women and Les Misérables, respectively), but you don’t have to know anything about the original stories to enjoy them.

The Year We Fell from Space by Amy Sarig King and The List of Things that Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead: Both of these books deal with divorce, anger management, and being haunted by a guilty secret.

The List of Things that Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead and Itch by Polly Farquhar: This kind of relates to the guilty secret above, but these two titles have a protagonist stewing over a moral dilemma. Plus both main characters have chronic skin conditions that require management.

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez and The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas: Each of these books stars a Cuban American boy who moves to a new town and quickly makes friends.

Iceland, Part II

Read Part I first!

Sunday was the midpoint of our Icelandic vacation, and we kicked off the day by heading into Reykjavík for the COVID tests we needed in order to fly back to the U.S. The Primary Health Care of the Capital Area proved to be very efficient, and after our swabs, we went into the city center to shop and poke around. It was cool and gray, but there was only an occasional slight drizzle. Parking was free on Sundays, and there may have been fewer tourists on Laugavegur, Reykjavík’s main shopping street, because many of the stores were closed.

Street art on Laugavegur in Reykjavík

I didn’t buy any souvenirs (Icelandic sweaters and wool blankets feature prominently in the gift shops), but I did buy several postcards, as well as Icelandic stamps. The stamp for Europe was Christmas-themed, for some reason, but the stamp for outside of Europe featured an Icelandic gyrfalcon. I later dropped my postcards in fire engine red Pósturinn boxes, one in a Krónan grocery store in Selfoss and one at the Skaftafell visitor center.

A house in Reykjavík

I liked the Reykjavík city center. There was street art painted on the asphalt of Laugavegur (a big maroon bird, a yellow eel), there were murals, there were corrugated metal houses in bright colors with wooden window frames and trim. There were a couple of excellent-looking bakeries with lines out the door, at times; we bought sandwiches and pastries from Sandholt, on Laugavegur, which had fantastic French-style viennoiseries, among other goodies. Also on Laugavegur, we saw a Bengal cat that might belong to one of the shops.

Hallgrímskirkja

Before leaving Reykjavík, we went up to Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church and the largest church in Iceland. Its architecture was inspired by the basalt lava columns we later saw in several places. In the square in front of the church is a statue of Leifr Eiricsson (as spelled on the pedestal) given to Iceland by the U.S. in 1930 on the 1,000th anniversary of the Alþingi (which according to Wikipedia is the oldest surviving parliament in the world!). After the service let out, we could venture inside the church. The soaring nave is unadorned but full of light, and there’s a huge pipe organ at the back.

In the afternoon, we drove southeast on the Ring Road (Route 1, which follows the country’s perimeter) to Seljalandsfoss, another of Iceland’s big waterfalls. The water falls from a cliff in sheets and thunders into the pool below. There’s a path that climbs up to a hollow behind the waterfall, allowing you to walk all the way around the falls. Behind the water the rock face is mossy. There’s a somewhat rocky climb out again.

Seljalandsfoss

Walking beyond Seljalandsfoss, there are a couple of other small waterfalls coming down the cliffside, and then there’s Gljúfrabúi, the hidden waterfall, which is tucked away inside a rock chamber a bit like the Baðstofa sea cave in Hellnar (see Part I). We walked alongside the stream that came out of the cleft in the rock, against the current, and into the chamber, where the waterfall came pouring down. Again, there was an opening onto the sky above.

Gljúfrabúi

On Monday, we left the Minna-Mosfell Guesthouse for the last time and drove toward Seljalandsfoss again, but we turned off at the town of Hvolsvöllur to join up with our Midgard Adventure tour at Midgard Base Camp, the company’s headquarters. Our group consisted of fifteen people led by two guides. We were with a father and son from Scarsdale in a 10-person van driven by our guide Vala. The rest of the group, including a couple of French families, was in a super jeep. Both vehicles were suited for the unpaved mountain roads in Iceland’s interior, as well as fording streams.

Brief digression about Icelandic: when I visit a new country, I often make some effort to learn something of the language (e.g. Spanish, Turkish, Portuguese) before I go, even if that effort isn’t terribly successful. This time around, I did way less advance study than in the past. I tried to learn how to pronounce Icelandic words and was a bit daunted (apparently these days <ð> is mostly lenited…?). The only time during our vacation when I actually felt like I made some progress was during our tour with Vala because I could listen to her pronounce Icelandic words, like Landmannalaugur, our destination, or hraun, which means lava field (and is also the name of a rough-exteriored Icelandic chocolate bar). I realized that <au> is not pronounced [au] (but <á>, which means river, really is) and that <hv> is indeed [kv]. I could also hear pre-aspiration in Vala’s English! And later that evening, someone else at Midgard Base Camp said Eyjafjallajökull slowly for my mother, and I noted that <ll> really is [tl]. So, my Icelandic sounding out is a little better now!

Sigöldugljúfur

Vala drove us back northwest on Route 1 and then turned inland. On the way, she told us a bit about the ongoing Fagradalsfjall eruptions near the airport, immigration in Iceland, and the catastrophic eruptions of Lakagígar in 1783, which caused huge loss of human and animal life, wreaked havoc globally, and may have helped spark the French Revolution. We made a pit stop at the Hrauneyjar lodge and then drove on to Sigöldugljúfur, an out-of-the-way canyon mostly drained by a hydroelectric dam project. Vala said it was known as the Canyon of Tears or the Crying Canyon, and it was one of the most striking and beautiful sights of our trip. Turquoise water ran through the canyon bottom while numerous waterfalls dotted its rock walls. It was a highlight for me, and we couldn’t have seen it on our own.

Hiking around Landmannalaugar

From Sigöldugljúfur, we headed through the mountains to our ultimate destination, Landmannalaugur, in the Highlands. There’s a camp there with huts and a tent area, near the hot spring pool (laugar = pools) and below the colorful rhyolite mountains. We first set off on a loop hike which took us along a mountain stream, past some greenish rock faces, and through a lava field (with shiny obsidian!) formed in 1477.  We reached the windy scree slope of a mountain (which people were climbing), where there was a big and extremely sulfurous fumarole belching steam. The smell was almost corrosive. On some greener, craggier adjacent slopes there were more plumes of steam, as well as some intrepid sheep.

The mountains at Landmannalaugar

The hike led downwards after that point, towards a meadow in a valley surrounded by the painted mountains. We circled back to the camp, where we ate the bagged lunches provided by Midgard Adventure. Then we had a short window in which to bathe in the hot spring pool. A boardwalk led through the marshy grasses to a platform where you could stash your stuff. A wooden staircase descended into the water, which was quite shallow and, of course, warm. There was some algae floating around. As I walked on the sharp stony bottom towards these little steaming falls, the heat of the water intensified. It was a fun experience; I hadn’t been in any hot springs since a trip to Switzerland years ago. There was a trio of cute black sheep (a ewe and two lambs, judging by their relative sizes) grazing near the hot spring pool.

Black sheep near the hot spring pool

We drove back a different way, through a lot of fairly barren landscapes. Apparently a lot of the Highlands are considered volcanic desert, and it does look like a desert, or maybe the surface of Mars or the moon. Practically everyone in our van started dozing off, but we did make one more stop at Fossbrekkur, a pretty waterfall in a sort of canyon below the snow-capped volcano Hekla, which is overdue for an eruption. Vala told us that legend has it that witches meet on Hekla on Easter.

Fossbrekkur

After our tour, we decided to eat dinner in the Midgard Base Camp restaurant, which had excellent food. I had more Arctic char, served with rich mashed potatoes, and we shared the rhubarb dessert with basil ice cream. Then we had to drive around the southern belly of Iceland to our new lodgings at the Hörgsland Guesthouse, just beyond Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Luckily, since the sun still sets quite late in Iceland in August and it’s still light out at 10:00pm, we arrived before dark.

My Arctic char at the Midgard Base Camp restaurant

On Tuesday, our last full day in Iceland, we kept driving east on the Ring Road. Our plan was to go all the way to the glacial lagoon called Jökulsárlón and then stop at some other sights on the way back. Most of our route was in the metaphorical shadow of the massive glacier Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland, which has many offshoot glaciers whose tendrils we glimpsed from the highway. It was quite a spectacular drive, both the way there and the way back. We drove through the glacial outwash plain called Skeiðarársandur (which looks kind of like a dark gravel wasteland shot through with brown rivers) and around the tip of a glacier to reach Jökulsárlón.

Jökulsárlón

This glacial lagoon was formed by the receding of the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull. A short river leads from the lagoon under a suspension bridge to the ocean. Jökulsárlón has glacial blue water and is dotted with miniature icebergs with blue undertones, some streaked with black. Close to the parking lot, there were a lot of gulls flying around or perched on the ice chunks, and there were big seals (probably harbor seals?) swimming in the lagoon! During our visit, it was overcast, and the clouds were very low, obscuring the mountains and glacier that were presumably at the back of the lagoon. But we walked along the water as Zodiacs, amphibious tour boats, and a group of kayaks moved among the icebergs. 

Seabirds and seals!

At Jökulsárlón, we bought one Icelandic hotdog to share (Icelanders are apparently into hotdogs). The sausage is supposed to be made from lamb, beef, and pork, but it tasted like any other hotdog to me. It came with mustard, mayonnaise, and raw and crispy fried onions. It wasn’t bad! 

The Icelandic hotdog

After more seal watching (I saw as many as six at a time), we crossed over to the other side of the Ring Road to see the black sand beach studded with chunks of ice. I think the ice washes ashore after exiting Jökulsárlón via the river. We could see small icebergs floating out of the lagoon, down river, and out to sea. The wet black sand makes a striking contrast with the white or transparent ice chunks as well as the foam of the crashing waves. We spotted a seal swimming a little ways offshore. As we were leaving, some larger icebergs were floating out of the mouth of the river.

The black sand beach adjacent to Jökulsárlón

From Jökulsárlón, we backtracked on Route 1. First we went back 10km to another glacial lagoon (or lake, since it doesn’t connect to the sea) called Fjallsárlón. It was less crowded than Jökulsárlón, and though it was just a few kilometers to the west, the clouds had lifted somewhat and there was a bit of sunlight. This meant that we could see the cliff face and ridged surface of the glacier behind the water, and in fact it and the snowy peaks beyond were partially illuminated by the sun. Occasionally we heard the glacier cracking, but we never glimpsed any movement. I loved seeing the blue cast of some of the glaciers. Fjallsárlón was in some ways more picturesque than Jökulsárlón because there was a collection of sculpted mini icebergs quite close to shore, but I agree with the Lonely Planet guidebook that it’s worth visiting both.

Fjallsárlón

We could have taken a 5km (one-way) hike from Fjallsárlón to a third glacial lake called Breiðárlón, even less frequented by tourists, but we opted not to. Instead, we backtracked further along the Ring Road to Skaftafell, a popular area that’s part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. We took the 1.8km path toward Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), which was almost entirely uphill and in full sun. At Jökulsárlón, I’d had four layers on; during this hike, I shed all but one. We trekked up through scrub and grassy meadows dotted with angelica, with views of mountains and glaciers in the distance.

Hiking in Skaftafell

There was a last descent to approach Svartifoss from the bottom. The waterfall is narrow and fork-tongued but with a fairly high drop. The big attraction is the hexagonal basalt lava columns that frame it. It creates a sort of solid, layered stone honeycomb effect.

Svartifoss

After the hike back, we ate the salmon or lamb sandwiches we’d bought at the Skaftafell cafeteria, as well as the creamy lobster soup from the Glacier Goodies food truck next to the campground. We’d also gotten some passionfruit skyr cake and berry tart from the cafeteria, which we shared back at the Hörgsland Guesthouse.

Wednesday was the day of our departure, and we had a fairly long drive back to Reykjavík. We did make one stop, just past the town of Vík, driving around the mountain Reynisfjall to the black sand beach called Reynisfjara. There were many warning signs, as the beach is considered the most dangerous in Iceland due to the sneaker waves. The tip of the mountain had more basalt columns, shallow caves, and flocks of seabirds, including many puffins perched on grassy clifftops! Puffins look kind of comical when they fly. It was the flying puffins that first caught my notice, actually, since they move very differently than seagulls, and then I realized there were puffins lining the cliff far above us.

The cliffs at Reynisfjara

From Reynisfjara, we could see some of the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar, and looking east, we could see the promontory of Dyrhólaey, with its rock arch.

Sea stacks at Reynisfjara

We drove the rest of the way to Reykjavík, where we had a delicious lunch at the home of Valur and Guðrún, the former proprietors of the Minna-Mosfell Guesthouse and the current proprietors of the car we’d been driving. We learned a bit about the September sheep roundup (Valur showed us some videos on YouTube, complete with sheep roundup singing–one of the songs had the same tune as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”). Apparently there are now opportunities for tourists to take part in rounding up the sheep. Then we headed to the airport.

On the flight back to Minneapolis, we flew over the fjords of southeastern Greenland while there were broad openings in the clouds. Sitting by the window, I had spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains, the deep blue water dotted with icebergs, and the sweeping glaciers.

Mountains and glaciers of Greenland