Book Review

Hidden Figures - A Book Review

March 11, 2017

Hidden figures book review
I so very much wanted to love Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, but sadly I didn’t. It was educational and interesting, and because the book was turned into a truly excellent Oscar-nominated film it’s a very popular book right now, but I truly can’t say I really enjoyed it.

The book centers on the lives of a group of African American women who because of their gender and the colour of their skin, were limited to teaching math in the segregated schools in the US south until the onset of the US involvement in the second World War. The dramatic rise in need for talented individuals to work in the aeronautics industry opened a door for these women and many others, who possessed the mathematical skills to help develop planes for the war in the sky, and later to help the US beat the USSR in the race to the moon.

Hidden Figures is Margot Lee Shetterly’s first book, and it’s easy to tell. It’s incredibly researched, but the problem is she attempted to cram in every piece of research she did into the book which makes it a very dry read. I read on the subway on my daily commute to work, which means that I generally read in stretches of 30 minutes or so. The heavily fact-based nature of the book, and the very non-linear writing style she uses (jumping back and forth through time, and across characters) made this book a difficult one for me to get through.

Some of the trouble I had with the book might be due my very basic knowledge of the history of racial segregation in the American south and of the space race. I’m Canadian so my history classes in school centered mostly on Canadian history (and a very white-washed version of it at that), therefore the book’s structure and tendency to jump around through time, and across events in history made it hard for me to follow when historic figures and events in the civil rights movement were interlaced with the scientific events occurring at NASA.

In life I find there are generally only two types of people – those who read the book first, or those who watch the movie first. I am firmly in the first camp, but for Hidden Figures I ended up seeing the movie first (in truth only because the hold list at the library was so long). The movie is excellent, but while it’s based on the book, it takes a number of liberties with the story of these truly inspiration women. If you’ve seen the movie and are thinking about reading the book please remember that the movie is a work of fiction based on true events, and I wish in this case I had read the book first.

Have you read the book? What did you think?

hidden figures book cover
Book title: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Genre: History
Pages: 384
My rating: 2 stars
Buy the book:
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner. Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Before & After

Painted Vinyl Floor Mat for My Foyer

March 08, 2017

Four years ago I blogged about the DIY foyer rug I made with some colourful fabric and some Polyurethane. The rug did its job for many years, but sadly time and foot traffic took its toll. While sweeping and mopping was able to get it mostly clean, over time the rug started to look a bit dingy and worn. I debated making another rug in the same way, but I couldn’t find any graphic colourful fabric I liked at a price I wanted to pay so I started looking for other options.

Last summer while I was visiting my parents my mom and I were browsing in a fancy kitchen store when I stumbled across these beautiful Vintage vinyl floor cloths by Spicher & Co. There were only two issues – I’d have to get a custom size which meant big $$$$, and the patterns they had were very traditional – not many that fit my desire for something bright and vibrant.
colourful striped rug in a foyer
Photo credit: Sian Richards; Chatelaine
A few months later I was bumbling around the internet and I found the image above. While the foyer is stunning (so bright and open!) it was the rug that drew my eye first. I loved the thick stipes in the vibrant hues. A bit of digging led me to the rug maker - Oliver Yaphe. The hand knotted construction of the rugs made them way too thick to fit under my front door (and the price was way too much for my wallet), but the image gave me a better idea of what I was looking for in terms of pattern and colour for my foyer.

After being inspired by the thick bright stripes I recalled the vinyl floor mats I had seen earlier and decided that I would attempt to make my own version if I could find suitable vinyl flooring. I needed the vinyl to be very thin, and I needed it to be as un-patterned as possible - most vinyl flooring has an embossed pattern to make it appear more like bricks or slate tiles - I didn't want that pattern to still be visible once I had painted it.

I looked at off-cuts, and even remnants and pieces at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, but nothing worked. Luckily I eventually found this vinyl at Home Depot - thin and the horizontal wood pattern would work with my planned horizontal stripes. With that worked out I turned my attention to picking my paint colours. I wish I could say that I was inspired by something in my home, but I cheated. I have a bunch of those 'paint inspiration' booklets and one from Para has five colours that reminded me of the ones in my inspiration rug, and even better I didn't have to spend the time carefully picking harmonious colours. Since I would need only a small amount of each colour I bought sample pots at Lowes.

Once all the materials were in hand, the steps were fairly simple, if a bit time consuming waiting for paint to dry. I used my dining room (aka: my workroom) for this project so it was bit in the way – a garage or other low traffic area would be better if you’re interested in trying it, but I’m not blessed with either. I first cut my vinyl to size using a straightedge and X-Acto knife. Then I primed it with some primer I had on hand from an earlier project. Next up was determining my pattern. I knew I wanted stipes of varying width, but I didn’t want just random sizes. My dad will be thrilled to know I used math to figure out a ratio that could work. Once the sizes of the stripes were determined I marked them using a pencil, and then taped off half of the stipes using painters tape. I painted between two to three coats of each colour using a small foam roller (darker colours needed an exra coat because my primer was white). Once those stripes were dry I peeled the tape up, and repeated the process to paint the other half of my stripes. There was a little seepage under the tape making my lines less crisp than I liked so I touched them up with a tiny paintbrush. The last step was three coats of Polycrylic in a satin finish.
striped painted floor mat from above

Painted floor mat with colourful stripes
I’ve been using my new vinyl rug since the end of November, and it’s held up really well against the stuff I’ve tracked in from outside with no chipping or scratches to the paint caused by little pebbles or damage caused by the water from melting snow off my winter boots. I reused my thin Ikea rug pad under the vinyl to prevent any movement of the rug, and the additional weight of my tulip table keeps it nicely secure.
Tulip table on a striped floor mat
My little experiment has worked so well I’m considering making another for my dining room, but for now I’m perfectly thrilled with how this one looks in my foyer.
stripes floor mat in a foyer

Striped floor mat on a wood floor

Book Review

The Hired Girl - a Book Review

February 24, 2017

The hired Girl book review
Like the first book I read for my 2017 book goal, I’d never heard of ‘The Hired Girl’ by Laura Amy Schlitz until I read the blurb on the A Mighty Girl booklist, but it sounded promising. Published in September 2015 it is a work for young adults and is one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to teen girls.

The book tells the story of fourteen year old Joan who, in 1911, runs away from her home on a small farm in Pennsylvania when her father forbids her from continuing her schooling. Being a lover of reading, Joan treasures the few books she owns and longs for a life full of love and adventure just like her favourite heroines.

The Hired Girl takes the form of a diary, written by Joan in the notebook given to her by her beloved teacher, Miss Chandler. At first I found the format a bit befuddling, and frankly I had a bit of trouble with Joan’s ‘voice’. But I got over myself and realised that the author had truly managed to inhabit the mind of a fourteen year old girl. If you’re a fan of Anne of Green Gables you’ll like Joan – she’s intelligent, na├»ve, impetuous, prone to making rather large blunders, and desperate to be in love. At times I found Joan to be a frustrating character who is overly emotional and a bit self-involved, but then again so are all regular fourteen year old girls (except for me – I’m sure I was perfect when I was fourteen – Ha!).

The author has crafted a tale where Joan takes us on a journey through early twentieth-century America as she experiences new inventions like electricity and a magical carpet-sweeper, and as she learns about feminism, religion and love. Overall I thought 'The Hired Girl' was an enjoyable book, and one I’d recommend if you’re looking for an easy read.

The hired Girl book cover
Book Title: The Hired Girl
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 400
My rating: 3 Stars
Buy the Book:
Winner of the 2016 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction A 2016 Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Award Winner Winner of the 2016 National Jewish Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her delicious wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a moving yet comedic tour de force. Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself--because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of--a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan's journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Life Lately

Quiet with MILCK and Choir!Choir!Choir!

February 22, 2017

One of my goals for 2017 was to try new things and a couple of weeks ago I sang in public for the first time since probably middle school - Mr. Robertson’s (Robinson's?) music class to be exact where I think he scared most of his students away from singing ever again. At the start of each year he made everyone memorize a song and stand up and sing solo in front of our classmates to determine what type of singer they were – Soprano, Alto or Tenor, etc. In grade eight that song was ‘Bring Him Home’ from ‘Les Miserables’ which is rather difficult (Mr. Robertson was rather odd – he also made us listen to one of the Beatles' LP’s backwards to listen to the hidden secret messages that said that Paul was dead). Anyways, I digress.

Choir! Choir! Choir! is an un-traditional choir that is based here in Toronto, where instead of having a regular group of members they invite anyone to attend and sing the song of that day. They spend a couple of hours rehearsing a song, and then everyone sings it together and it’s recorded. Some of the recordings have gone viral including their rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ with Rufus Wainright for 2016’s Luminato Festival in Toronto.  My friend Lindsey has sung with them on numerous occasions and she invited me and a couple of friends to join her on February 6th in support of the ACLU.

If you heard anything about the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st, you may have heard of MILCK. She performed her song “Quiet" with a group of strangers during the march, and the video of it went viral. The guys at Choir!Choir!Choir! invited her to Toronto to sing the song with the group, and this is the result:

The experience of singing in such a large group was really neat, and I can honestly say I wouldn't hesitate to attend another Choir!Choir!Choir! event in future - even one that isn't for such a great cause. Also, if you look VERY closely you can catch tiny glimpses of me at 1:37 and 4:24 - not that I watched the video repeatedly to see if I could spot myself or anything . . . :)
I can't keep quiet

Book Review

Code Name Verity - a Book Review

February 13, 2017

Code name verity book review
One of my goals for 2017 is to try to read 40 books. In order to help me keep track of the number of books I read this year I thought I might write reviews as I go. Hopefully these will introduce you to a book or two you'd like to read, or it might even prompt you to recommend one you've read and enjoyed to me. Code Name Verity was the first book I started after January 1, 2017.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein was released back in 2012, and to be completely honest I’d never heard of it before I stumbled across it while perusing the A Mighty Girl book list. I’m a bit of a fan of fiction set during the Second World War, but this one is different than many of the ones I’ve read before as the main characters are female and they’re right in the middle of the action. Needless to say this was quickly added to my hold list at the library.

When this book became available I couldn’t wait to get started. The story centers on two unlikely best friends – a working-class girl from outside Manchester and a Scottish Aristocrat, who despite their completely different backgrounds complement each other perfectly. The first part of the book is written from the perspective of a spy captured and held by the Gestapo. It’s a diary of sorts – the confession the spy writes to delay further torture, and what she anticipates will be her eventual execution. The spy tells of the friendship between Maddie, a pilot, and Julie, a special operations executive.

To be honest I had trouble getting into this book for the first little while – I found it slow going. The narrator focused a lot on Maddie’s story – detailing planes and airfields and other operational aspects of the war. This focus makes sense given it the information that would be most desired by the Gestapo about the war-time operations of their enemies, but I truly only wanted to read more about the friendship between the two young women, and frankly I also didn’t like the narrator’s character – a spy willing to confess to the enemy in order to save their own skin. To be honest I was a bit tempted to put the book down, but I persevered and I’m so very glad that I did.

I won’t go into the second part of the book as it would give away some key points of the story (and some major plot-twists), but I will say that Code Name Verity turned out to be a fabulous book and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s classed as Young Adult fiction, but it’s a truly great read for adults (and frankly some of the book might be a bit graphic for young teens).

So tell me - have you read it? If so, what did you think? Have any similar books you can recommend?

Code Named Verity Book cover
Book Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth E. Wein
Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Pages: 352
My Rating: 5 Stars
Buy the Book:
Code Name Verity is a compelling, emotionally rich story with universal themes of friendship and loyalty, heroism and bravery. Two young women from totally different backgrounds are thrown together during World War II: one a working-class girl from Manchester, the other a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a wireless operator. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted friends. But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in "Verity's" own words, as she writes her account for her captors. From the Hardcover edition.


Intentions & Goals

January 27, 2017

Intentions & Goals 2017
Well, here we are again – January. The month of year that’s traditionally regarded as the one when we should all turn over a new leaf with the aim of making ourselves happier with who we are. In the past I’ve made resolutions, but like a lot of people they never really stuck ie: I’ve joined a gym in January and gone religiously for weeks only to gradually stop going, until the result was at the end the only thing looking slimmer was my bank account. In years past I’ve blogged about my goals and resolutions when it came to my home, myself and even this blog, but the last few years I haven’t set any. Frankly, the pressure I can put on myself when it comes to resolutions and the invariable sense of failure I experience when I don’t meet my own expectations can be rather debilitating.

Despite my past defeats in the realm of resolutions and goals I’m going to give it another go this year with some hopefully better results. I’m hoping that by setting just a few goals/intentions instead of a whole list worth I’ll have more success.
This blog – should it stay, or should it go? Along with resolutions, January also brings the renewal bills for keeping this blog up and running. It’s pretty expensive, and while there are a few ads running on the page, they don’t even cover 10% of the cost of keeping this blog up (and since I haven’t met the payment threshold I’ve actually received no money). So my intention for this year is to decide once and for all if I should keep it, or delete it.

When I first started blogging I really enjoyed it – I enjoyed sharing what I was doing, and getting feedback from readers, but over the years blogging as an medium has changed. Blogging used to be about sharing with the world because you’re proud of your craft or DIY, or because you really enjoyed the work of someone else.Now, in some cases, it’s all about the $$ and the lack of ethics on the part of some bloggers/sites has left me wondering if I really want to revive my blog. I didn’t write a single post in 2016 - time will tell if this is my sole post in 2017, and if it is I’ll have my answer.

Reading 40 books in 2017. I travel part of the way to work each day via the subway and, like a lot of people, I spend most of the time underground staring at my phone. Unlike some others though, I don’t play the newest addictive game, I read. Ebooks are a genius invention.

My goal for 2017 is the read 40 books. Originally it was 100, but then I did the math and realised that would be almost two books a week. While I love reading, I don’t love it above eating and sleeping and all the other things that take up some of my time. I pondered reading 50 books – a nice, round number I thought manageable given the speed I can finish a book (normally approx. one a week), but finally settled on 40 in case there are some books that are a bit of a slog to get through (we’re nearing the end of January and I’m starting to wonder if 40 was even a bit ambitious – I’ve only managed two books so far). The rules for this goal are simple – the books can be new, or ones I’ve read before, in any genre, but I have to read the whole thing. If you have any books to recommend please let me know – I need some ideas as my hold list at the library is currently empty.

Running a 10K in under an hour. I always seem to make resolutions about running, and they’re usually not successful.

This year I’m making a pretty audacious goal – I hope to finish a 10k race in under an hour. This is big. HUGE. Did I mention that I’m not a fast runner? My best ever 10k time was about 1 hour and 4 minutes. That was 12 years ago. Twelve. Paul Martin was the Prime Minister of Canada, GW Bush was the President of the USA, and I was more than a decade younger. Yikes.

To put this a bit more in perspective, last year I ran one 10K race and finished it with a chip time of 1:19:47. Oy – now that I’ve actually written that out I’m freaking out a bit – I basically have to cut 20 minutes of my most recent time to meet this goal. That’s a lot. Send help in the form of a personal masseuse, and maybe a truckload of anti-inflammatories. Also, a pry-bar to peel me off my couch and out to actually train might be helpful as well.

Try new things and put myself out there more. I’m a bit (ahem – a lot) of an introvert. I find it hard to put myself out there and meet new people. This year I’m aiming to try to fight that. I know I won’t be able to change my inherent nature, but my goal is to attend and participate in a few different things.

This goal has already netted some results – I attended the Woman’s March in Toronto on Jan 21st by myself, and I’ve signed up to take an ‘Intro to everything’ course at the Art Gallery of Ontario – again by myself. Hopefully I can find a few more things this year to attend to help expand my horizons a bit, meet some new people, and learn some new things.

Renovate my Bathroom. I had actually hoped to do this last year but I’m completely intimidated by the idea and to be perfectly honest I got lazy. But it NEEDS to be done, so it’s on the list for this year (and by NEEDS I’m not exaggerating – the grout if falling out in my shower so God only knows how much moisture has seeped into the walls – it has to be fixed).

This goal might be tough too as I’m still completely intimidated by the idea. Where the heck do I start? What do I do when I’m renovating given I live in a one-bathroom apartment? How do I find a contractor? HELP!! Any good tips on where to start? Have the name of a great contractor in the GTA? Please share them. Please.

So, there we have it – my intentions or goals for 2017. Only time will tell if I have any success. Here’s hoping I do.

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