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2020 Writing Review

In 2020 I think I had the best year for writing I’ve ever had, maybe bar the incredible amount of writing I did between November 2017 and June 2018. Still, I wrote and edited, and wrote some more. In October I got the idea to actually track my writing, all of my writing, not just the writing I published/completed in some form.

This has made an incredible difference.

I’ve starting to do significantly more editing on my writing before sharing than before. This past year was also the start of a targeted effort of my part to finish my on-going stories before publishing any new multi-chapter stories.

As an effect, while my published word count of the whole year sits around 35,000 words, it’s dwarfed by even just my writing word counts for October, November, and December. (In large part because of NaNoWriMo – an event with a 50,000 words in 30 days goal.)

For the purposes of tracking ease, I have decided to treat each month as if it only has 30 days and the months with 31 days have one free days!


October

Graph of October 2020 Word Count Tracker

(The key is at the top, but it’s a little hard to read so: Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Green is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Grey is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Blue iss the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In October I set a goal of 25,000 words in the month as a way to prepare for writing 50,000 words in November. This was helpful as it reminded me of the difference made by a marginal daily effort. Writing even just 100 words (or less!) in a day, is better than nothing. The days without writing built up and by the end of the month I had to spend the last few days on just writing in order to hit my goal.

This was the only month where I used a fluctuating “daily word goal” which I adjusted towards the end of the month to show the much higher required daily words to hit my goal. I ended the month with 25,054 recorded words written.


November

(Most of the colours are the same as October, except for ‘daily word count goal’, which was shifted to be more prominent. Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Green is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Red is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Blue is the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In November I did a much better job of writing daily – I successfully wrote every day of the month, even if it was just a few words. I also kept much closer to my goal accumulative word count. Still, I started to falter around half way through the month and had to do another burst of writing at the end of month. Unlike October and December, all of the writing for November was on a single story, which I have mixed feelings about the result of. I managed to write a total of 54,598 words during November.


December

(The colours are different for December. Blue is the ‘Accumulative Word Count Goal’. Yellow is the ‘Accumulative Word Count’. Green is the ‘Daily Word Count Goal’. Red is the ‘Daily Word Count’. )

In December I set myself the same goal as October of 25,000 words, but I wanted to experiment with a changing daily word count goal. I started the month with a daily word count goal of 54 words and ended it with 1620 – if I had hit the daily word count goal I would have ended the month with 25,110 words, but I felt that was close enough and I would still count 25,000 words as a success.

On the 18th of December, Eliana was tested for COVID-19. On the 19th she received a positive result, and this was the first day I didn’t write at all. I moved to the living room while Eliana was quarantined in our shared room. The whole family stayed at home for 10 days and luckily, no one else developed symptoms. On the 26th, Eliana was released and we celebrated Christmas a day late. Of the six days of the month where I wrote zero words, five of them were during our 10 days of isolation. I also wrote nothing on the 30th (and the free 31st, but again, I’m not tracking that).

Overall, I wrote 12,071 words in December, this time including significantly more non-fiction words as I included some journal entries and the book reviews I published previously. I don’t plan on using the escalating word count again in the near future as I found the early days of the month frustrating as the word count goal felt ridiculous, while the end of the month felt overwhelming even though I had written more than 1,620 most days of November.


I hope to post more tracking and life content on Me and the Others in the future as I would like to share my life with my loved ones, but feel uncomfortable with sharing on sites like Facebook. Ideally, there will be two more posts a year for 2021’s Reading and Writing Reviews!


2020 Reading Review

In 2020 I finished 7 published books. I read Howl’s Moving Castle and the Murderbot Diaries books in seperate binges but On Writing and Monstrous Regiment both took ages to read. I’m not sure which one is the cause and which is the effect when it comes to the rating and reading speed, so take it with several grains of salt.


Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones – Four Stars: I really liked it!

Recommended for ages 9+, this is a brilliant book to read with kids as it’s humour and adventure is enjoyable as an adult. There are aspect of the characters and story that could be further dissected by more interested readers, but overall the story is fairly short and concise. I would have happily read another 100 pages of Howl and Sophie’s interactions and found the differences in their relationship in the book compared to the movie impressive.

Best Characters: Sophie Hatter, Howl Pendragon
One Sentence Plot: Sophie Hatter wants her old-age curse broken but there’s a lot going on and very little communication.
Would Recommend: Yes, to all ages of fantasy readers. A lighter story and an excellent compliment to the movie (which has a different plot on a couple of levels).


On Writing by Stephen King – Three Stars: I liked it

I would not recommend any authors write memoir-writing advice book combinations. While I greatly enjoyed the writing advice – particularly around drafting – I have never read a Stephen King book before and know very little about the man himself and therefore found the memoir sections rather boring. My personal preference would be two, separate, smaller books for each topic. I will be rereading the writing advice sections in the future.

Best Characters: N/A
One Sentence Plot: Stephen King is a prolific and skilled writer: this is how that happened
Would Recommend: Only to Stephen King fans or writers


Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett – Two Stars: I didn’t like it.

I nearly rated this three stars, as Terry Pratchett is my favourite author, and there were a number of highly witty, funny scenes. However on the whole, I found the book rather a slog to get through and was disappointed by the ending at a couple of different point. I found the emotional prompt for the story – Polly’s journey to find her brother – unsatisfying in its conclusion, and in her attempts to reach her goal. Some elements felt disconnected – such as the vampire Maladict’s difficulty with the coffee shortage. The themes of the book are around feminism and the foolish nature of war, propaganda, and excessive patriotism, I found the story itself a bit too weak to hold it’s strong message. I found Monstrous Regiment more blatant and less enjoyable with its moral than Pratchett’s other writings and feel it could have benefitted from more revision to cut some subplot.

Best Characters: Polly Perks, Sergeant Jackrum
One Sentence Plot: Polly Perks wants to find her brother but there’s a war on, and her side is losing, badly.
Would Recommend: Probably not, perhaps to those looking for a Twelveth Night style criticism of war.


All Systems Red by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

An impressive novel with a light speed plot and incredibly articulate characters for it’s length, the true heart of the story is in its main character, Murderbot. While I would have enjoyed a longer ending to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed every word. The main character was impressively relatable and I was delighted by Murderbot’s character development through just 160 pages. The world building was present but not intrusive and Wells did a good job in describing settings and characters enough to picture without it feeling overly heavy or boring.

Best Characters: Murderbot, Dr. Mensah
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot would prefer to consume media but instead has to attempt to protect mission clients from death.
Would Recommend: Yes. It is short enough and limited enough in jargon that I would recommend to anyone even willing to give sci-fi a chance.                                                               


Artificial Condition by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

Second in the Murderbot Diaries collection, Murderbot is now a free bot, off to do… something. With some new AI and humanoid characters alike, I found the cast of Artificial Condition equally likeable, if perhaps less notable when it came to the human cast. The plot was again snappy, though this time with a subplot! It seems Wells has little interest in post-climax storytelling as this was another rather abrupt ending, but as I was prepared, I read the ebooks sample for the next book and found that a satisfying ending. (Though it did lead me to reading the third book… which isn’t exactly a downside.) As easy to consume and as addicting as potato chips. I love Murderbot.

Best Characters: Murderbot, ART
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot, unfortunately, cares – and attempts to protect mission clients from death.
Would Recommend: Yes, to anyone who enjoyed the first. If you liked All Systems Red, you’ll like this; if you didn’t, you won’t.


Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells – Four Stars – I really liked it

Another satisfying Murderbot Diary. Weakened by a more convoluted plot, but strengthened by a more developed goal and continued character development. Rogue Protocol was my least favourite so far plot-wise, but even that as still quite good. Another amazing AI character and some more likeable, if vaguely unmemorable human characters.

Best Characters: Murderbot
One Sentence Plot: While trying to gather evidence of wrong-doing by GrayCris, Murder attempts to protect the others on the planet.
Would Recommend: Yes


Exit Strategy by Martha Wells – Five Stars: I loved it!

A brilliant finish to the first mini-series. As highly paced as the previous books, this book felt longer in the best way. I savoured every word. It returns to some known secondary characters which could have allowed some deeper connection, but I didn’t feel that. I didn’t mind though because Murderbot gets that change. There was more sci-fi babble than previously as a result of being set on a corporate planet with all that entailed but I found the language sometimes a bit disruptive. The ending was the most satisfying yet and could easily be the end if you want it to be. (I didn’t personally, and luckily there’s a sequel novel! )

Best Characters: Murderbot
One Sentence Plot: Murderbot tries hunts down and rescue Dr. Mensah from GreyCris
Would Recommend: Yes


The somewhat tiny flat experiment

Leanne and I both enjoy reading about the tiny home movement. I find something really compelling about the idea of living in a very small, heavily curated space and the videos and pictures all seem very enticing. But I’ll admit that our time in London so far makes me question my commitment to that idea. The core of the experience has been moving from our four bedroom, three full bathroom, California suburban home to our decidedly smaller scale two bedroom, one bath/one toilet flat in London. Mostly I’ve really enjoyed the change. But, as I alluded to in my previous blog entry, when it comes to my writing environment this has been a dramatic change for the worse. Inspired by the Day #3 assignment I’ve been reflecting a bit on why this is so.

The first thing I feel I need to explain is that just looking at the bed/bath numbers doesn’t nearly tell the whole story. At first glance you might expect that it is the missing space that makes the difference: there’s no garage, there’s no patio, there’s no garden shed. But mostly that missing space has made little difference to me. Sure Leanne’s sewing area is now a corner of our living room rather than all the garage, and there are times that hats and hats-yet-to-be are everywhere, but mostly I find it a change for the better; it is quite nice having her in the same space as us in the evenings rather than out on her own behind closed doors.

The next obvious factor is that everything is smaller scale. Every room, every appliance, every closet and drawer. But again, I personally find this largely a change for a better. I have embraced the scaled down curated approach to stuff. I take a closer look at my possessions. I can ask, “will this give me joy?” and then do the necessary when the answer is no. And no regrets.

But the theme today isn’t living, it is writing. And that’s where our cozy comfortable flat is causing me problems.

In California with our (retrospective) excess of space I had the indulgence of an office of my own, with a table of my own. A place I could put my stuff and leave it and come back and find it in the same spot. And then there was the door. I could close it. And that’s what I miss now, in London. The ability to have a bit of space of my own, at home. A place where I know I can go and sit and think and write and work through problems.

This has been a big surprise to me. I agree with quite a bit that Joel says about software, but my experience with shared space for developers vs private offices doesn’t match his. He argues, persuasively, for private offices for developers; my best experiences have been in shared open space. And then I go home and I want to work on a blog entry or the CITCON website and suddenly I find myself seeing his point. Why?

I’m reminded of an experience we had at Agitar where we tried quite a few different seating arrangements. We found we could work well in an open space with 14 desks in a circle, and even when there was conversation across the circle it wasn’t a problem… as long as the conversation was about a problem. If the conversation was technical then it seemed we could monitor the talk and choose to join or not, and yet we didn’t find it distracting. But as soon as someone walked up and asked about a non-work topic — how was your weekend? did you see that show? etc — we had to chase them off. So noise about our common endeavour wasn’t noise and wasn’t a problem. So when I got home and try and work I find all the human activity around me is about something else, and maybe that’s why I find it a problem…

And then I go write this blog entry in a pub.

For the moment I’m out of theories and I’ll I’m left with is observations. These days in the office I’m rarely at my desk, mostly moving from meeting to meeting or conversation to conversation. In the scattered minutes and hours I am at my open space desk I can sit down and work just fine. I go home and struggle to find a productive space. If I’m in the living room then Leanne and the girls want to watch an episode of White Castle. If I’m in the kitchen someone starts a laundry cycle. There are days where everything is quite and peaceful and productive, but it isn’t something that I can count on. But if I take my laptop out to a cafe or pub I can work.

I miss my desk, but considered as a package I prefer the mode of living we have now.

Anyone have some theories to make sense of all of this?


Device experiments

I’ve been slowly working through 10 Days to a Better Blog and for Day 3 the exercise was to write out some thoughts on the optimal writing environment. I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to reflect on a couple of changes I’ve experienced in my time in London. They are both major factors in my writing environment, but neither I feel has moved me closer to optimal. The first is a deliberate experiment I’ve tried with my digital space, that I’ve recently ended. The second is the change in physical space that has been somewhat thrust upon me, but I’ll cover that in a separate entry.

While moving to London was a big change in life, from a work perspective the bigger change was something else entirely: I stopped using laptop for work. This may not sound like much, but I’ve worked primarily off a laptop for most of my career, and that has been the norm for most engineers I know. On joining TIM Group I discovered that the development machines were all desktops. That made me stop and consider this option: What would it be like to work from a desktop? To not be able to move it to a conference room? To not be able to bring it home??

It was actually this last idea that tipped the balance for me. At the time of our move I thought we might be in London for only a couple of years. If that’s was going to be the case, I didn’t really want to be bringing a lot of work home with me. So I went for the desktop option, actually passing off the laptop that had been purchased for me in Boston — I worked out of the Boston off for three weeks, and from California for a month before we moved to London — to another engineer who could use it on his train journey.

Coincident with this desktop experiment was my iPad experiment. Could I use the iPad to fill the gap when mobility was required? I had used the iPad a bit in my previous job, but because of job requirements I typically had a laptop as well. I was curious how far I could take the iPad as a work machine. I also thought the iPad’s relative lack of multitasking might actually be an asset, helping to keep me focused on what I was doing. Critically, I was thinking of the iPad a content creation device, not just a consuming device. But would it work?

The results of both of these experiments is that I took delivery of my new 13″ MacBook Pro last week to become my primary work machine.

For the most part I feel the setup worked remarkably well. When at my desk in the office I’d use my desktop, then I would take my iPad everywhere else. I’d use it in conference rooms, on the train, at home, in airplanes, at conferences. Really it is a great device, and it is by far the most reliable communications device I’ve ever owned. I’ve used it for email, Skype, FaceTime, Mumble, Yammer, Hangouts, Slack, IRC, GoToMeeting and more. And I’ve had fewer problems doing so, fewer glitches and obstacles than on the various laptops and desktops I’ve used in the same time period. I also really enjoyed the iPad for creating. I’ve written long documents (performance reviews) and found typing on the glass screen to be adequate. And for creating slides I found Keynote on the iPad to be by far the best tool I’ve ever used. So for most of my time I’ve had no complaints. But recently some changes at TIM Group have caused me to experience a lot of frustration, and oddly it was of my own doing. The problem came from using Google Docs with tables in them. The iPad app doesn’t support editing the content of tables. And because two important management processes — performance reviews and OKRs — have been implemented using Google Docs for collaborative editing and the content in tables, the iPad has become useless for two of my very regular tasks.

But there was one other element of this experiment that I ended up finding limiting, and that was the division between my personal laptop and my work machine. Mostly this was a benefit. I almost never checked non-work email when at work, and I was much less likely to check work email when working on a project at home. But sometimes I want a bit more crossover, especially if I was interested in coding. And because I wasn’t using my home laptop very often, the iPad being very very good for most things, it was easy for me to put off doing things where I still had a laptop-centric workflow (working on CITCON being the most common).

Looking back I’m really impressed by how much I could get done on my iPad. I never felt quite as fluent for some work where multiple tabs and multiple documents were required, but those were less common than I expected. Once I’d moved out of a daily coding job I probably could have gotten by on just an iPad indefinitely. But for my personal projects such as CITCON, blogging, and wanting to play more with code all make me happy to be back in the comfort zone of a single go everywhere, do everything laptop. And my hope is that having one unified digital environment for home an work will make me more productive in both.


Travelling in America: Day 1

December 18th 2014

I live in England, as you know. We must wear uniforms to school, except on the special ‘own clothes days’. Thursday was such a day. This was also the day I left to go to America. So, I wore my own clothes to school, then after my 3rd lesson and break around 12:20 I went home. We left for the air port around 1:15. Unluckily for us, there was oddly bad traffic, so we were in a bit of a rush.

Boarding was delayed. Thus, we were able to get lunch. Yay! Then the 8 hour flight started. It is hard to describe the dooming feeling of plane as it takes off. I’m rather used to it now, but I don’t think I shall ever like it. I read my book, watched (Marvel’s Wolverine) movies, and listened to music, with time to spare. Landing is probably worse than take off. It isn’t as loud, or as abrupt. However it manges to create a feeling like someone found a dryer, and put the plane with it. So, I sat on a plane moving in one of the best landings I have seen/felt. Yet I still feel like someone stuck their hand in my stomach and is playing around in it. Basically put, I felt feverish and nauseous even during a smooth landing. I was tired by then, (it was around midnight in London, 7pm Washington D.C,)  travelling is surprisingly hard on the body.

We landed in Washington D.C. USA.  We (Mom, Dad, Eli, and I) went through immigration, luggage collection (which took a surprising amount of time), and customs. Only to drop off our luggage, again. Then we took another flight to Florida. By the time we landed it must have been 1:30am Washington D.C. (or Florida) and 6:30 London. Usually I wake up around 6:30 am.

Baggage collection took up enough time for me to use up the last of my phone’s battery and for everyone to get thoroughly cranky. Then we wait for the hotel’s shuttle bus to arrive. It didn’t come. For 30 minutes we waited, then we took a cab the 5 minutes there.

We finally went to bed in the hotel room around 2am, local time.


France July 2014 Day 3

July 26 2014 

Paris, France

In my dream there was music and the world was simultaneously bright and clear, while also being shaded and foggy.

I sat up, the music was the alarm on my phone and I needed to turn it off before it woke anyone else up. 6:34 my phone said, I frowned, I did not want to be awake. Nothing on Earth could possibly be more blissful than being asleep right now I stood up anyway, I walked past the dirty floor, and grabbed my laptop. I read on my laptop much longer than I had planned, until 7:25, I only wanted to do it until I could be loud without waking anyone up. Oh well. We ate and left for the Museum de Orsay. It wasn’t even 9:45 before I finished I, Robot which I quite enjoyed. This meant however that I didn’t have a book to read. This was bad for me.

After two days of being in France and only 6.5 hours of sleep, I couldn’t handle any more of anything. We walked around for a while but I didn’t really process anything, and I likely won’t remember any of the work because guess what, no photos. We went up to the top floor where, in a room without paintings which were ‘endangered by my flash-less iphone, I took a lovely photo of the Jackson’s silhouettes against a clock. For those who don’t know the Museum was once a train station so on the top floor there are clocks facing outward, they are beautiful from inside and allow all to see the view of Paris. In this room there were are two sofa-like things which can hold around eight each. I sat in one, and fell asleep, I woke up caused my paranoia so it wasn’t too rest full. We had lunch and left the museum shortly after.

As you can guess, I wasn’t going to be doing much active sight seeing. Carolyn broke off from us while we were headed to the catacombs. When we arrived we found a line with over a hundred people in it! It went all the way around the block, it was huge. I thought we would head home, I was wrong.

I followed Jay as he led us through the tube. When we surfaced, we weren’t near our apartment. Instead we went to a restaurant, it was strange. There was no menu. You walked in, you were shown to a table by a waitress. You would be asked how you liked your meat cooked, for those of you who know I am vegetarian I did say I was totally cool with this, Jay and Olivia ordered medium and I asked for well done. She left after ordering our drinks (,Coca Cola for Olivia and I, and wine for Jay).

The waitress brings you a salad, which is delicious! After you finish you are served steak with a sauce, and fries/chips. Both items were heavenly, everyone agreed. Then, around when everyone was wishing they could have a little more, but hadn’t finished their food yet, the waitress topped us up! You get a second helping of the main course!!! Only Olivia finished all her food, and only barely at that. We didn’t even have dessert! That was the most delicious meal I have ever had in France, maybe even ever! Le Relais de l’Entrecote is the name, if you go to France and don’t mind meat, go here!

After an hour and half of down time all together at the apartment we headed out, unfortunately I had just started a new book: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. A strange book to say the least, but very good. The problem is that I had no interest in going out anyway, I was done sight seeing. That didn’t matter as their was more to do, so as a group we saw the Pantheon which had some construction going on, but was pretty all the same. From there we walked, and I read, down towards the river (and the bookstore!). When we reached the river Olivia and I, much to our delight, were abandoned at Shakespeare and Co. I found this difficult, I wanted to buy a book. Luckily I persivered and didn’t buy a single book. Olivia on the other hand bought War of the Worlds by H.G Wells and The Umbrella Man by Roald Dahl. I have become a green eyed monster when it comes to Olivia’s book buying.

We waited in the park across the street and read, at the same time there was a Macbeth play in action. The Jackson’s returned and we got crepes, or they got crepes but I wasn’t hungry. They ate, I read. Luckily there was just enough room in my stomach for an after dinner/lunch dessert. We got ice cream, or was it gelato? It was amazing! Then we went home, I finished Silver Lining Playbook and everyone went to sleep.

 


France July 2014 Day 2

July 25 2014 

Paris, France

Day two is practically over, but I’m not asleep yet. Today I had a late start, waking around 8:35 or so and not getting up until later. Carolyn and Jay brought fresh pain au chocolat, croissants, and a baguette from a boulangerie. SO DELICIOUS. No pictures of that I’m afraid.

It was around 10:30 when we left the apartment and went on a wild bus chase. That took a while… Finally we arrived at Notre Dame, I did get pictures of that. The Notre Dame, which I have seen before, is quite extraordinary. If you can visit Paris, see Notre Dame… after that go the bookstore.

Shakespeare and Co. We went, the books are in English, and they have a great selection. Luckily for my parent’s wallet’s, I have excellent restraint and only bought 3 books… Kidding, I bought one and we have the chance to go back if we (Olivia and I) want. As you may guess, we spent hours at the library. After buying our books Carolyn and Jay bought lunch which we ate at a local park. This was awesome! Surely you are all curious about the book I bought, am I right? It doesn’t matter, I’m going to tell you regardless. I bought I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, thanks Dad for the recommendation.

After the book shenanigans we walked, we walked in the Latin quarter, we walked by the river, we walked across the river, then we walked back. Well, we walked back… to the metro. Then we took the metro home. We spent some amazingly delicious hours at home, where I wrote about yesterday, naps were had, food was eaten, and internet used.

We walked to the diner for dinner, but 15 minutes after ‘opening time’ they were still quite closed, so we ate at a restaurant next door. I ordered in proper French: “Je voudrais un(e?) omelette avec pomme du terre, ” translated I said, ” I would like a omelette with potato.” Of course the waiter had to confuse me by quickly asking what I wanted to drink. It took a minute to understand, luckily Carolyn saved me as she understood much quicker. The omelette was delicious!

Then the really important part of the day began! Joking mostly. We took the metro to the arch de triumph (arch of victory) which Olivia and Jay went to the top. It was beautiful, not in comparison to Notre Dame, and it was slightly less photogenic but pretty none the less. We walk past the arch de triumph and along a road I do not know the name of. I got a slushie and Olivia got a coca cola at a stand as we walked into a garden. WE walked up some stair… then we were at the Louvre. I have no idea how that happened but it was a beautiful night and Paris lived up to it’s name as the city of lights. The day drew to a close as we took the metro home and enjoyed solitude together in the flat. I wrote until past midnight and fell asleep before finishing this post. It is 9:12 pm 26 of July 2014. I will go to sleep now, but I will tell you about today, tomorrow.


France July 2014 Day 1

July 24 2014 

London, England to Paris, France

On Thursday, July 24  2014 I woke up at 5:12 AM… and watched T.V. Then, around 6:30 I left with mother, who as you know is Leanne Fredrick and not a morning person, to go to Saint Pancras Station. That was to get a train which would take us to France. So, at around 11:30 we arrived at a train station in France!

We went to France because I was going to meet my good friend: Olivia Jackson, along with her parents Carolyn and Jay. We were in France at 12:00 noon, the Jacksons wouldn’t arrive until around 3:30. I was hungry, tired, and grumpy; for those reason we ate at a Japanese restaurant, because that should be everyone’s first stop when they go to France *sarcasm*. Admittedly the food was tres bon (very good). Even after the food I wasn’t it the best of moods because it was hot, I was wearing long jeans, and I was carrying a very heavy side bag. We couldn’t get into the flat/apartment I would stay in until the Jacksons arrived; for hours we sat in the shade in a local park.

I practiced French on Duolingo (an excellent language learning app and website) and did quite well. Mom drew the street lamps and we talked irregularly. Then… we got the call… The Jacksons had arrived! For the first time in over a year I saw her and I think I talked non-stop for pretty much the rest of the day.

We dropped off our luggage at the flat. (We have a brilliant place. One bedroom with a queen sized bed, two beds in the other room which is the main room with a kitchenette, table, and door to a toilet. Connecting to the bedroom is a beautiful shower and sink, but no toilet. In all there are four rooms, three beds, a shower, and a toilet.) I changed into shorts and we (Olivia, Jay, Carolyn, Mom, and I) went to see the Eiffel Tower. There was a mile long line to get in and cigarette butts all over the ground. None the less it was a beautiful sight. But… I was hungry again.

I wasn’t the only one, so we went to a five star cafe that I found on yelp, but it was closing in five minutes. We journeyed down a busy street full of highly recommended restaurants. All were packed. Every. Single. One.

We ate (finally) at a delicious restaurant called Giromondo. It was quiet, cool, and delicious. Olivia got steak and I got pasta, both were delicious! When we left it was 10:00, we entered at 8:00 but because it was down stairs all forms of time were forgotten.

We took a peak at the lit up Eiffel Tower, quite a sight. Mom departed for her traveller’s hostel. Home we went, it was 11:00 before we got back and 12:30 before an sleep was had.

 

Pictures to come.

Write more soon,

Emeline


Greece 2013 – Athens & Crete

A glimpse into our trip to Greece in April. We arrived in Athens in the evening. We found our hotel and a surprisingly delightful restaurant nearby. It looked and sounded like a tourist trap, Alexander the Great restaurant, but turned out to be great.  Since we were going to be in Athens for only one full day, it was going to be packed full. Jeff & the kids hate this kind of traveling, but I reminded them, it was just one day. Jeff found us a local place with fresh yoghurt covered with walnuts and honey.  I was in food heaven.

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Then armed with a downloadable audio guide for the city of Athens, we selected a walking tour from several options in the audio guide, and made our way though the city center, by some lovely churches and amazing ruins.

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Then up the Acropolis (hill) to see the Parthenon. The audio guided walk led us through a series of wonderful narrow paths lined with white washed building and lots of roaming cats.  Eliana must have taken hundreds of photos of cats.

IMG_9044 Fredrick Family in front of Parthenon Fredrick Family in front of the Temple of Athena IMG_9039

The problem with crash course sight seeing is that the (my) brain is quickly exhausted and thus tells the body it is exhausted. I wanted to listen to all of the audio guide and read all the signs, but I was overwhelmed so we mostly just walked among the buildings and enjoyed being in their presence. We took in as much as possible then made our way back to the hotel. Where we allowed ourselves to be suckered into a tourist trap dinner at a seaside restaurant. The best part of the dinner was that I got a few good pictures of the harbor at night. I had to take a picture of the modern traveler’s computer spaghetti. Computer, layered with ipad, layered with phones.

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All in all, I am glad we went to Athens, but it is a tired city. The poor city has been beat up by war so many times that is just looks tired. Lots of grey concrete, buildings riddled with bullet holes, and struggling little trees next to graffiti covered walls (Emeline & Eliana are sitting on top of cubes). But with that said, there is amazing history everywhere. Many of the old streets use white marble to create the lines down the road and don’t forget the food.

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The next day we were off on a small plane to Crete, the largest island in Greece and closest to Africa and thus prone to very warm weather. Which was good as we were a little early for the “summer” season. The resort was just opening for the summer as we were there. Each day more deck chairs came out and shops opened for business. It was very windy on several days and not really warm enough most of the time to make swimming enjoyable, but it was a lovely resort that catered to families with an all you can eat kids zone from 11 am – 5 pm, with activities such as table tennis, football, archery etc.

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We ate, relaxed, explored the island and ate and relaxed some more.

One of the highlights was going to Knossos.  This ancient palace would have been to the Romans as the Romans are to us.  A civilization that was well structured thousands of years before them. They even had a plumbing system where water would flow through the “toilet”. Amazing! The place was really big.

Knossos on Crete Knossos on Crete

Jeff and I made a valiant effort at running and despite a couple of days of being sand blasted we did pretty well.

Have I mentioned the food?  I met a couple of nice families from England that were also having a holiday there. One family has invited us to their farm in Western England near the lake district.  We are going to be going to visit them later in August.


Camera Obscura, Pin Hole Camera, and Lumen Prints

 

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One of the things I find completely irresistible is someone who has a passion for their art. A home schooling mom friend here in England is into the art of the camera obscura, the pin hole camera and lumen printing. Over the last couple of weekends, as part of the Sydenham Arts Festival, Ky Lewis gave classes on how to make these three things. Her joy and passion in the process and delight in the outcomes are contagious. Picture of Emeline and Eliana’s parted hair listening to Ky’s instructions.

 

 

The Camera Obscura is really interesting, it shows how light travels in a straight line. Take a tube or box, then with a small hole in one end and a tube with tracing paper over and adjustable inner tube you can see an upside down image of what you see in the real world.  Look it up online for the explanation as to why. With the use of lenses (“borrowed” from a magnifying glass) you can change the focal length of the image. 1) Emeline looking into a camera obscura 2) Ky’s beautifully made and carved 3) my 1st camera obscura – rustic but works! I even made the lens moveable.

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What is a pin hole camera? For you young’uns, in the olden days before digital cameras, there was film. Film has a solution on it and when exposed to light it can record the image that is exposed. A pin hole camera is just a container with a hole (the diameter of a pin) that lets in light to a piece of film (in this case 35 mm). The images come out upside down and have a bit of a dreamy effect. To get a really clear picture takes a lot of practice. (exposure, focal depth, a steady hand, etc.)

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You may wonder what the round picture is about… that was one of the coolest things. We made the pin hole then held up the piece of metal to my iPhone camera lens and looked at my phone in photo mode to see that the hole was truly round. Neato, don’t you think.

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This was one of my pictures with my matchbook, pinhole camera.  The red dots on top and bottom are where I had light leaks that came in from the back of the camera, thus through the back of the film. I think it is an awesome effect. I also like how the cut edge of the box is so vividly clear while the image is fuzzy.

Lumen printing is a little different, in that you use a larger sheet of Photo paper (this is not to be confused with printer paper used to print photos from your ink jet – Not the Same). You lay objects down on the photo paper and leave it in the sun (UV light) and the exposure makes a print. The paper has to be washed in a chemical solution, rinsed and dried. We used two different types of paper, one that is more grey, the other more red.

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We gathers flowers, grasses and some folks used dead bugs. Eliana found an orange rind and a yellow feather.

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Eliana removing plant debris before going into solution, then a quick picture of mine before going into solution.  What is difficult to communicate in these images is the depth of detail in the some what blurry images. The contrast of detail and fuzzy is fascinating.

The weather was warm, the garden beautiful in its wildness. There was a yummy little cafe with delightful people all around. Learning and creating at the same time…my idea of fun.