Monday, November 4, 2019

I love sharing your friendship. I don't want to share your germs.

How I dress for church in the fall/winter
months to try to stay cold-free

For many years, I've shared a post about the importance of staying home when you're sick as soon as the first autumn colds start to circulate. As a cystic fibrosis patient, my immune system is compromised, and I have a tendency to pick up any viruses within a hundred-mile radius—at least, that's what it often feels like! Not only am I more likely to get colds and other illnesses in the first place, but those illnesses are nearly always much, much worse for me than for a regular person. What may be a case of the sniffles for you typically turns into a lung infection for me, nearly always requiring antibiotics and frequently requiring a hospitalization or course of home IV antibiotic therapy.

And don't even get me started on more serious viruses, like influenza, which can be a literal death sentence for CF patients. In 2007, while I was engaged, I caught the flu; I was almost immediately hospitalized, and ended up going into the hospital something like 7 times over the next 18 months. It took me at least that long, if not longer, to feel like I was back on my feet health-wise.

Every winter, I personally know far too many people with CF who die—and quite often, the infection that leads to their decline is caused by a cold, influenza, or other virus. And death is only the most dramatic result. Every winter, I also see far too many friends spending months in the hospital, enduring cycle after cycle of body-destroying extra-strength antibiotics, and, like me, finding themselves unable to engage with life at all because their strength is so totally zapped by dealing with persistent infections.

CF patients aren't the only population at risk, either. Cancer patients, transplant recipients, and medically fragile children and adults all can have life-threatening reactions to a virus that, for you, manifests as an annoying case of sniffles.

Every year when I blog about this, I get push back in two primary ways: from people with kids who are sick all the time, and from people who don't have the option of taking sick leave from work. I get that, I really do. I've been that parent before - there have been times where Kate was sick over and over for months in a row. And I understand, also, that there are lots of jobs where a worker is penalized or let go for missing work, regardless of the excuse.

In light of those issues, here are some things that you can do to mitigate the effect of your illnesses.

1. If you can stay home, do so. Postpone the shopping trip. Get takeout instead of eating at a restaurant. Stay home from church—truly. Church is one of the big danger zones for me, because people have a tendency to come regardless of how they feel. Really truly, you can nearly always find someone to fill in if you have something to do, and those of us with compromised immune systems will thank you. If you really cannot get out of a responsibility and must go sick, see #2 and #3.

2. Be honest. If you're going to a gathering where you know that someone with a compromised immune system (or a baby) will be, let them know how you're feeling. Describe your symptoms and let them tell you what they feel comfortable with. Work out a plan you both feel okay with.

3. Wear a cheap mask. You can get inexpensive disposable surgical masks at any drug store. Did you know that wearing a standard paper mask won't actually protect the wearer from viruses? That's why I don't wear one when I'm out during cold and flu season (I actually buy pricey fitted masks to help me stay safe in the winter, but that's not an option everyone has). However, what those paper masks do very well is protecting the people around you from your germs while you're wearing it. If you have to go out while you're still symptomatic, consider wearing one. Also, use hand sanitizer, wash hands frequently, try not to sit close to anyone else, and make sure to cover a cough.

4. Learn to tell the difference between allergies and a cold. If you or your kid has a stuffy or runny nose that isn't going away after several weeks but has never been accompanied by a fever, body aches, or a cough, it's probably allergies... But if that runny nose just started, give it at least a few days before deciding it isn't a cold. Contrary to popular wisdom, a clear runny nose is no safer than a green one, and it actually usually comes at the point when a cold is most contagious (ie the beginning).

Remember how Smoky the Bear said "only you can prevent forest fires"? The same might be said in this case: only you have the power to help make public spaces a safe place for those of us with compromised immune systems to be!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

And The Winner Is...

All I have to say about the pumpkin-carving contest voting this year is: WOW! Y'all really turned out to vote this year. We ended up with 210 votes, more than a hundred votes higher than any of our previous contests! The polls certainly seemed to be an easier way to vote than our old comment system, although I did miss some of the banter and the chance to see more of the decision-making process happen as people voted. If you voted this year and have also voted in prior years, I'd love to know what you thought of the new system vs. the old!

Even with so many votes, the response was very decisive. Unfortunately for the losing pumpkin, it garnered far fewer votes this year than the winner; from the beginning, there was a clear favorite. With a final tally of 180-30, the winner of this year's contest is.......................

Pumpkin B!

A few months ago when Mahon and I were tossing around theme ideas for this year's contest, he suggested space as a theme. It took me a little while of pondering, but I soon landed on the design I wanted: a lyrical, emotional moon scene that honored the connection between Earth and space. I can honestly say I've never been so happy with any pumpkin I've ever carved as I am with this year's Pumpkin B. I'm so proud of how well I was able to complete my vision!

Of course, Mahon's Pumpkin A is also spectacular, and I am absolutely gobsmacked by his creativity and ingenuity. Perhaps next year he'll take the trophy again!

Thanks so much for voting—we'll see y'all next year! (And next year we'll be armed with our preferred tools again. Hmph.)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Cast Your Vote In The Thirteenth Annual Pumpkin Carving Contest!

If you've followed me long at all, you're probably familiar with the oldest tradition in the Baldwin household: the annual Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. Back when my husband, Mahon, and I were baby-faced college students with fewer worries but more debt, we bonded over a shared spirit of competition when he invited me to his family's yearly pumpkin-carving bash. He boasted that he was sure he could carve a better pumpkin than me, and since we couldn't be content with only our own opinions or even those of the family members there that day, I uploaded the photos to my very-new-back-then blog and let the world be our judge.

Since then, every year we've repeated the tradition—slaving over contest themes, choosing pumpkins with the utmost of care, trying out dozens of different tools (WE HATED THE DREMEL, OKAY?), and always sharing the pictures with the world so that YOU get to decide who, after all, is the best pumpkin carver in the Baldwin household.

This year, as the world celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing and the U.S. turns its gaze once again into the cosmos, we thought that there could be no better theme for our contest than space itself. The final frontier of pumpkin carving, as it were! If I do say so myself, these are some of the very best pumpkins we've ever produced, which is especially impressive considering that there was a last-minute drama involving lost carving tools and we had to go back to using kitchen knives and x-acto cutters, something I swore we would never do again. But hey, we survived, and these pumpkins are pretty epically space-tacular!

As always, all descriptions are written by me, and all photos are a joint effort between us both. This year Pumpkin A has more photos only because it is 3D enough to need to be seen from several angles to be appreciated; Pumpkin B, which is a more traditionally unilateral carving, shines (pun intended) through with fewer photos.

This years rules, as in previous years, are:

1. Just ONE vote per person... no cheating! If you don't have a Google or OpenID account and so you're voting anonymously, make sure to sign your vote. Unsigned anonymous votes may be deleted. You can also cast a vote on Instagram or Facebook, as long as you keep it to the official pumpkin carving contest thread on those platforms (it gets too hard chasing votes across multiple threads).

2. DO NOT reveal who carved which pumpkin! If you suspect that you may know which pumpkin was carved by whom, DO NOT share that information in the comments. Any comment that tries to spill the carver's identities will be quickly deleted. (Also, we really DON'T recommend attempting to guess whose pumpkin is whose. In the past, guessers have tried to swing the vote for one person or another, and guessed wrong, with disastrous [but hilarious] results. So really, just vote for which pumpkin you actually like better and leave it at that, okay???)

3. Get all your friends and family to cast their votes too! Share on social media! Bug your co-workers!

First up! Pumpkin A:

This year's carver of Pumpkin A has truly gone above and beyond to present a mind-bendingly original piece of gourdian art. Not only have they used three distinct pumpkins to create the planet Saturn, its rings floating free around it—they've even gone so far as to meticulously paint their creation with UV paint, lending it a fancifully eerie glow. Perched atop the planet are an intrepid astronaut explorer and their newfound companion, a friendly Saturnian. In a moment where NASA prepares to launch itself into future missions to far-flung planets, this still-life of the first interaction between a human and an extraterrestrial seems especially appropos.

You'll notice the wealth of incredible details with this pumpkin, including the fact that the Saturnian glows in the dark but the astronaut doesn't, indicating that the magical phosphorescence of the planet lends itself to fauna as well as flora. In the second picture, you can also see that the rings are actually suspended around the planet, not resting on the ground—a true feat of engineering!

Next we have Pumpkin B:

Just a week and a half ago, NASA conducted its first all-female space walk, as Christina Koch and Jessica Meir stepped outside the International Space Station together in a groundbreaking act of space-age feminism. This historic moment seems to be very much on the mind of the young girl featured in Pumpkin B, as she stands against a star-dappled sky, wistfully gazing up at the full moon. Perhaps she, like Koch and Meir once did, dreams of someday swimming among the stars—or even stepping foot on the moon itself, taking something more than just a small step for womankind. 

Notice the detail and lyricism present in Pumpkin B: the careful carving of the figure of the girl with her uplifted hand; the faint light of the Earth where she stands; and the crater-pocked surface of the moon, majestic and proud, in the sky above her.

We're trying something new this year! This year, I'm going to try to use polls to manage some of our voting. If the polls don't work for you, or if you're entering votes for multiple people, you can of course still cast votes in the comments just like normal. You can vote in the poll below, in the comment section, in the comments on Facebook or Instagram, or on my Twitter poll (@beingCindy). But please, only vote once!

Voting will close around 9pm Pacific Time on Saturday, November 2nd

Postscript: This is actually the first year that Kate has expressed a wish to be in the contest. Alas, you can't actually vote for this pumpkin (I told her she has to get to the point where her pumpkin could pass for one of ours so she doesn't get votes purely by default!), but we wanted to share it anyway. The design is a witch riding a broom with her trusty feline friend in front of her, their flight path directly toward a crescent moon. Design by Kate, carving by Mahon under Kate's instruction.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

2019 MG Summer Reading List!

Recently on Facebook, I promised to share a list of some of my favorite middle grade reads for parents looking for summer reading for their kids. (The sweet spot for most middle grade is between ages 8 and 14, though I find them delightful to read as an adult, too! And my 6-year-old and I have enjoyed lots of middle grade fiction as read-alouds.)

The following is a list I've compiled of some of my very favorite middle grade reads over the last year. Hopefully, there will be something for every kind of reader here, whether they're fans of graphic novels, realistic fiction, mysteries, tear-jerkers, or historical fiction. Any book on the list with a star is one that takes place DURING the summer—I know I personally always love when my summertime reads have that summery feeling!

Each of the books on this list is something I've personally read and loved in the last year or two; I tried to include a mix of newly-published titles and older ones, to make sure that many would be available even at smaller local libraries. If you're looking for something to suit a specific reader, let me know in the comments what books they've enjoyed in the past, and I'll try to give some customized recommendations!

One set of books I end up recommending a LOT but haven't read all of is the Rick Riordan Presents line. If you have a Percy Jackson fan in the house, be sure to check out new books published under this imprint by authors like Jen Cervantes, Roshani Chokshi, Yoon Ha Le, and Carlos Hernandez. Each series is a Percy-style adventure that is based in world mythologies and written by authors from that specific culture. They're awesome!

(Disclaimer: I've used Amazon Affiliates links in this post.)

August Isle by Ali Standish*
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin*
The Battle of Junk Mountain by Lauren Abbey Greenberg*
So Done by Paula Chase*
Silver Meadows Summer by Emma Otheguy*
Up For Air by Laurie Morrison*
The Vanderbeekers of 141st St. by Karina Yan Glaser
The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser*
The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson* (This one is realistic fiction with a historical mystery element!)
Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
Kat Greene Comes Clean by Melissa Roske
Mostly the Honest Truth by Jody J. Little
Front Desk by Kelly Young
The Year of the Dog (and sequels) by Grace Lin
Worth A Thousand Words by Brigit Young
The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio
Just Beneath the Clouds by Melissa Sarno
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla*

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia*
Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Giddwitz
The Inventors at No. 8 by A. M. Morgen

Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca*
Just South of Home by Karen Strong*
Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy by Joshua S. Levy
Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
The Land of Yesterday by K. A. Reynolds
The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo
One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
Race to the Bottom of the Sea by Lindsay Eager
The Hotel Between by Sean Easley

New Kid by Jerry Craft
The March trilogy by John Lewis (nonfiction memoir)
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell
All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol*

And for even more summer reading fun, check out this Summer Reading Bingo I put together for Middle Grade at Heart!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Revision Breakdown Part 3: Doing the Deed

Making notes on the hard copy of my 2020 book

So, remember how last summer I was working on a series of blog posts about my revision process? I got two posts into that three-part series and then got busy, and... um... never finished. Oops.

Since it's better to post a year and a half late than to never post at all, here is the final step in my personal revision process! You can refresh your memory of the earlier posts if you want:

Part 1: Writing my own edit letter
Part 2: Mapping out my story

Once I've mapped out my story and written my edit letter, I break my revision down into manageable chunks.

The way I break a manuscript down really varies from revision to revision. Typically, I start with the big things first—the "plot changes" or "big changes" from my self-made edit letter. I prefer not to start with smaller details, because sometimes the bigger changes might alter things enough that my original list of smaller changes is no longer accurate.

For some revisions, I read chronologically through the book from beginning to end, working each chapter to make several big alterations. (This, for instance, is what I did with my second book with HarperCollins; by the time I got my edit letter from my editor it had been about a year since I'd worked on that book last, and I had enough big-picture changes to make that I knew I needed to read the whole manuscript as I worked.)

For others, I take one big change at a time and go through the whole manuscript working for places to implement it. This is how I revised Where the Watermelons Grow—I'd read it fairly recently and had a fairly clear idea of where I needed to make specific changes.

I often do a lot of back-and-forth-ing as I work on these big revision passes; a new scene here means altering an older scene to be consistent, etc.

Once I've worked my way through my whole list of big changes, I turn to the smaller ones. (Sometimes—when I have a LOT on my revision to-do, which is not uncommon—my lists are split into "big," "medium," and "small," and I go in that order, from big to small.) Often, these are changes I can implement using tools like the "find" feature in my word processor—searching for specific keywords, overused phrases, or scenes I know I need to change but can't remember what chapter they occur in. For instance, if I've decided to get rid of the references to a specific school, I can search for every time I use the name of that school and then rework the paragraphs around that mention.

This part of revising is by far the least set-in-stone, most intuitive portion. Often, I base the way I'm doing it on what feels most organic or least intimidating to me. For me, starting a revision inevitably feels like standing on the high dive, afraid to make the leap off; I try to begin with whatever makes that leap the least scary, or whatever I have the clearest vision for.

I typically don't work down my to-do list in order, either—I address points on the list in the way that feels the most natural. Often, different points on my list are related to one another, and I'll work on all of them in tandem before moving on to less-related issues.

For especially big revisions, I might end up reading through the manuscript beginning-to-end twice. With my second book (out in 2020), I read through on the computer as I made my big changes, and then printed the manuscript and read through the hard copy after I'd finished, so that I could have a better grasp for the rhythm of the language and find smaller line edits that needed attention.

When I'm working on a revision, it always, ALWAYS feels like my book is turning into Frankenstein's monster, an unintelligible mishmash of old and new writing that feels completely doomed to being terrible. No matter how incoherent it feels when I'm working on it, though, I always find that the manuscript is much, much stronger when I'm done!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

And the Winner Is....

So, remember how I said results would definitely be posted by 9pm PST tonight? Well, I looked at the calendar while scheduling that and thought, "hmm, we have parent-teacher conference that night AND that's laundry-folding night... Hopefully I won't be too busy!"

Reader, I was VERY busy.

But now here I am, belatedly! And I'm pleased to announce that the winner of this year's pumpkin carving contest, by a total of 57-36..............

Pumpkin B!

If you've followed our contest long, you'll know that Mahon has only won a handful of times in our 12 years of doing this. In fact, a couple of years ago he was feeling so dejected about it that there was real talk about ending the contest for good. But I think he's feeling pretty good about things right now, since he is, in fact, the carver of Pumpkin B, making this his second victory in a row after last year's masterful Te Ka pumpkin.

And I can't fault him for the win—this curcubit creation is pretty incredible, and probably one of me favorite pumpkins ever to emerge from the contest. It's pretty cool, seeing my Della reading in her playhouse!

Congrats to this year's winter, and thanks so much for voting! We'll see y'all next year.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Cast Your Vote in the Twelfth Annual Pumpkin—Um, Curcubit—Carving Contest!

It's everyone's favorite time of year—you know, when we're all spending our time poring over candidates, trying to figure out which option best typifies our values, and heading to the polls.

That's right: It's pumpkin carving contest time!

For the first time ever, this year's pumpkins ended up getting rescheduled until after Halloween, thanks to a combo of complicating factors. But better late than never, and here we are, with this year's candidates!

This year's theme is one we've had in mind for more than a year. In honor of Where the Watermelons Grow being released this summer, our pumpkin carvings are everything Della Kelly (and friends). This time, in honor of our theme, we even have an extra-special addition to one carver's entry. We actually REALLY tried to find full-sized watermelons for us both to carve, but alas: there are no regular watermelons to be had for love or money in November, so pumpkins it (mostly) is.

As always, all descriptions are written by me, and all photos are a joint effort between us both. This years rules, as in previous years, are:

1. Just ONE vote per person... no cheating! If you don't have a Google or OpenID account and so you're voting anonymously, make sure to sign your vote. Unsigned anonymous votes may be deleted. You can also cast a vote on Instagram or Facebook, as long as you keep it to the official pumpkin carving contest thread on those platforms (it gets too hard chasing votes across multiple threads).

2. DO NOT reveal who carved which pumpkin! If you suspect that you may know which pumpkin was carved by whom, DO NOT share that information in the comments. Any comment that tries to spill the carver's identities will be quickly deleted. (Also, we really DON'T recommend attempting to guess whose pumpkin is whose. In the past, guessers have tried to swing the vote for one person or another, and guessed wrong, with disastrous [but hilarious] results. So really, just vote for which pumpkin you actually like better and leave it at that, okay???)

3. Get all your friends and family to cast their votes too! Share on social media! Bug your co-workers!

First up! Pumpkin A:

...through the window to the backyard I could see Miss Tabitha. A cloud of bees swirled around her, so many bees that the ends of her blond hair lifted in the wind they made. She wasn’t wearing one of those white space suits beekeepers are supposed to put on to protect themselves from stings—but she didn’t look afraid, not one bit. She looked... at home there, in that storm of bees...
(Where the Watermelons Grow, page 200)

Central to Della's story in Where the Watermelons Grow is the famous Quigley honey, responsible for mending the wounds and woes of Maryville for generations. Whether it's healing a baby with pneumonia, fixing a broken heart, or mending a family feud, the Quigley honey has the ability to bring out strengths inside you that you never realized were there. In their pumpkin, Carver A has used careful shading and exquisite detail to evoke the mystical, magical nature of the Quigley honey threaded throughout the book—reminding the viewer that magic is always so much closer than you think.

Pumpkin Curcubit(s) B:

We’d built it last summer, right by where the curve of Hummingbird Bay met the edge of the Hawthorne farm, and both our daddies hated it because we’d made it ourselves out of old plywood we scavenged from the supplies my daddy used to build our chicken coop last year. Before that we’d spent years playing in an old tobacco shed, but the playhouse was better, because it was made with our own hands.
(Where the Watermelons Grow, page 56)

In a true stroke of genius, Carver B has chosen to incorporate an actual mini watermelon into their design. This carver has used the watermelon to depict Della's beloved playhouse, where Della sits, lost in a book—quite possibly the very Emily Dickinson poems that teach her how to hope when she feels all hope is lost. The watermelon is set into a pumpkin, into which a window is carved with curling watermelon vines below and swaying tree branches above. Of special note is the color contrast provided by the interior of the watermelon against the pumpkin—definitely an effect we've never seen before!

Voting will close by 9pm PST on 11/7. You can destress from the actual election by watching these results roll in just one day later.

Postscript: You can't vote for this one (any attempts to vote for it will be rejected!), but we figured we'd share, anyway! Kate's design this year is a "cheetah underneath a rainbow."