My Life This June: In Which I Visit Washington, D.C. and Do More Research and Editing

Hello, everyone! It’s the fourth Saturday of the month, which must mean I’m describing my life this month for you. This June, I went on a family vacation to Washington, D.C., which made me promptly forget about everything else I did this month. . . . I did, however, do some more lab work and writing-related things, which I’ll talk about at the end of this post.

So I was in D.C. (we stayed in Maryland, actually) from Saturday the 11th until Saturday the 18th, which is why I didn’t respond to any blog comments made during that time until I got back. Sorry for the delay, everyone! On the 12th, our first day out doing things, we went to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, even though it was over 90 degrees outside and the zoo is a very walking-intensive place (from where we parked, you had to go all the way up a giant hill to get to the famous pandas). Despite that, it was a great place to visit! I had only been there once, ten years ago, so it was nice to go again. Below are some of the animals we saw. It was particularly cool to be in some of the exhibits with wild birds loose around us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next morning, we walked around various monuments (since Washington, D.C. is monument land) and passed through the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. This was the first day we passed cool buildings, like the National Archives and the Department of Justice.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later that afternoon, we visited the National Gallery of Art itself. This is a great big art museum composed of two buildings; the east wing was designed by famous architect I.M. Pei and is very modernist and cool, while the west wing is a more traditional design. The east wing was a pretty quick tour, since it was under renovation, so we quickly passed under the street to the west wing. This wing was full of beautiful and interesting art, including Ginevra de’ Benci, the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in either American continent, and The Sacrament of the Last Supper by Salvador Dali, my new favorite painting (even though I don’t usually care for Dali’s surrealist work). Anyway . . . here are some more pictures for you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On Tuesday, we attended to the actual reason we were in the D.C. area, which was so my brother could compete in the national competition of National History Day. For those who haven’t heard of it, and are junior high or high school students, you should check it out (at the link above). Students compete in the paper, exhibit, performance, website, and documentary categories, as individuals or groups, junior or senior high. I’ve never done it, but this was my brother’s fifth year, and his first attendance at nationals. It was pretty cool to go. Students from different “affiliates” (there were students from places like Guam and South Korea as well as the fifty states and D.C.) traded buttons to try to get all of them, and the different range of projects was pretty interesting. Although my brother did not win any awards at the Thursday ceremony, he still had fun and will do NHD again next year.

On Wednesday, we did a few different things. First, we visited the U.S. Botanical Garden, which was a really neat place, not least because it was the result of George Washington’s vision of a botanical garden in the nation’s capital to educate the populace about plants. (George Washington appreciated plants!) There was a conservatory and some outside gardens. My favorite was probably the orchid collection in the conservatory, although the endangered plants and sensitive plant in the “Plant Adaptations” section were also pretty cool. See the pictures below!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the botanic garden, we went back to the National Gallery, since we didn’t see nearly everything on our first run through. We found a few Vermeer paintings and visited the da Vinci and Dali paintings again. After that, we went to NHD night at the Smithsonian American history museum, which is a great place if you ever go to D.C. They have lots of cool stuff, like the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, the hat Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was shot, and lots of first ladies’ inaugural gowns. They also had some NHD exhibits on display that day, so we visited a couple of those as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thursday and Friday were much quieter. On Thursday, we attended the NHD awards ceremony, then went back to our hotel and hung out. On Friday, we visited the Phillips Collection, which is apparently America’s first modern art museum, mainly to see The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a famous Impressionist painter. It was a beautiful painting, and very absorbing; I sat in front of it for a while. They also had other interesting works by modern and contemporary artists, and a lovely little courtyard.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That wraps up my trip to D.C., and since this is becoming a monster post, I will be brief about the rest of my month. I have continued doing research, spending most of my days in a lab happily analyzing seaweed DNA and growing seaweed spores in a little culture room. I’ve learned a lot of new lab techniques this month, such as the polymerase chain reaction (hugely important in molecular biology). I have also been plugging away at my editing, although I recently made a list of the scenes I have left to edit and realized I am going to have a huge time crunch later next month. (I set a goal of finishing my macro edit by July 31st. We’ll see if that actually happens.) But all in all, it’s been a good month, even the three weeks I wasn’t on vacation.

How was your June? Did you go on vacation this month? If so, where? Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? (If you live outside the U.S., have you ever been to your nation’s capital, and if so, what was it like?) Have you been to any of the places I visited? If so, what did you think of them? Have you ever done National History Day? (If so, kudos to you! I could never get through all the yearlong work, haha.) If not, does it sound interesting? And lastly, have you been writing or editing this month, and if so, how has it gone? Share in the comments!





What I’m Reading: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In a society where books are forbidden, book-burning fireman Guy Montag must make a decision: whether or not resuscitating books’ secrets is worth losing the life he now lives.

Well, the votes are in! Two weeks ago, I asked you which book of the three I’d recently read you’d like me to review on the blog. The winner was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which I must admit I’m happy about, since I liked it so much.

Fahrenheit 451 is a classic for good reasons. Let’s examine them!

The Story: Guy Montag is a fireman, but in a future when all houses are fireproofed, that means he burns down houses filled with contraband (books). Then, he meets Clarisse, a young neighbor who thinks far more than the average person, and starts to venture down the same path. I shan’t say any more for fear of giving spoilers. . . .

This story was excellently written. Many events are unpredictable, yet foreshadowed enough that they are not unbelievable. The subplots–Montag’s marriage, his friendships with Clarisse and Faber, and his work life–all wove together really well. And the way it was written made it really memorable. More on that below.

The Characters: There are just enough characters in this book, not too many: Montag, our main fireman; Clarisse, his young friend; Faber, a professor before universities ceased to exist; Beatty, the fire chief; Millie, Montag’s wife; Granger, whom he meets near the end. They were all distinct and well-developed, and I got to know more about them as I read along and Bradbury revealed the backstory (again, just enough, not too much). They were all fascinating. I cared about all of them in different ways. Some made me sad; some made me happy. For me, that’s the mark of a good writer, that the characters are compelling.

I liked all the characters, but Montag was my favorite. I really enjoyed watching him grow and develop over the course of the book, watching him gradually discover the truth and cope with his misdeeds (some of which are pretty serious, reminding me of this post on Helping Writers Become Authors). He was just so compelling. I loved cheering him on. 🙂

The Writing: Ray Bradbury was a good writer. Sure, he used telling words here and there, and there were a few narrative passages explaining things, but overall, I was really inside Montag’s head. In several places, the book was slightly disorienting, the way it was written, but that served to emphasize Montag’s confusion. It was very immersive.

Another thing I noticed was the worldbuilding. Bradbury doesn’t do a lot of explaining up front about the storyworld; he just drops the reader right into it. He explains things as they come up, like the Mechanical Hound; or he has the characters explain them, like Beatty’s explanation of how firemen came to burn houses instead of fighting fires. And the world was fascinating. I think part of the reason Fahrenheit 451 is so classic is that the society is so relevant, so realistic. It could really happen, and that’s stuck with people since the book was first published in 1953. It will certainly stick with me; it was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Overall: Fahrenheit 451 was an excellent book, a timeless classic. I definitely recommend it!

What do you think? Have you ever read Fahrenheit 451? Anything else by Bradbury? If so, what did you like about it? If not, do you think you’d like to read it? Share in the comments!

Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Molecular Biology: How DNA can Help Kill a Disease

Happy second Saturday, everyone! It’s time for a science post. For today’s post, I visited the Science News website and browsed around for something interesting to talk about. There were a lot of options, but I settled on this one. All credit goes to the original authors.

I’m sure you’ve heard of malaria. It is commonly known to be rampant in third-world areas, particularly Africa. It’s caused by microorganisms of the genus Plasmodium, which have part of their life cycle in mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. This makes it that much harder to eradicate, since any disease or parasite with what’s called an “animal vector” requires health workers to eliminate every animal that could carry the disease. Imagine trying to kill every one of the 30-40 malaria-transmitting Anopheles mosquito species in Africa, and you have some idea of why malaria is so hard to get rid of.

So essentially, to end the disease, end the mosquito. But how?

Using everyone’s favorite molecule, of course: DNA!

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a “gene drive,” an engineered DNA molecule that disrupts genes’ activity by inserting itself into them, that is capable of sterilizing females of one Anopheles species. That could curb the reproduction of the mosquito, and thus the number of mosquitoes available to carry Plasmodium. 



Plasmodium, the malaria parasite. (Image from the CDC)

This is actually the second Anopheles gene drive to be developed by the same researchers. The other one (findings published 2015) aimed to prevent Anopheles from carrying Plasmodium. So far, both of them work, though neither has yet been released into the wild Anopheles population. But both have potential to help stop malaria.

There you have it: another manifestation of the current genetics revolution. (I must admit I am partial to blogging about said revolution, being a major DNA geek.) What do you think of these gene drives that might help eliminate malaria? Do you like DNA as much as I do? Share in the comments! Also, if you’d like to learn more about today’s topic, be sure to check out the links in the post!

Beautiful People June 2016 (Childhood Edition!)

Hello, all! Because I’m currently in the planning stages of a new story and need to get to know my main character, I’m going to take a brief hiatus from doing Beautiful People for my Windsong characters. Don’t worry, I’ll continue introducing them to you next month, unless another new-story character decides to take over. . . .

First, a brief blurb about Beautiful People: This is a link-up run by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. The idea is that writers’ characters are all beautiful people and we should get to know them, so every month Cait and Sky put out ten character-development questions for other bloggers to answer. Anyone can join in, so if you’re interested, click the link for one of their blogs and join the fun! (Also, check out their blogs in general while you’re at it, because they’re both really good bloggers.)

Now, everyone, I would like you to meet Rahāra Vāl.

I don’t know her very well, so I shall invent on the fly today.

1. What is her first childhood memory?

A large gray dog standing in front of her. (Grey? She is British.)

2. What were her best and worst childhood experiences?

Best experience: Getting applauded for her great performance in a school play. Worst experience: Getting applauded for a terrible performance in a school play because she tripped and fell over and people felt sorry for her. That, and getting yelled at by her mother for locking her younger brother in the bathroom.

3. What was her childhood home like?

Just a middle-class house in the suburbs of London. (Now I should really look up what this is like.)

4. What’s something that scared her as a child?

Dark places, because her older brothers locked her in a closet once for a couple hours, and cats, because she was warned early on that she was allergic to them and not to go near them at all (which I, personally, find very sad, especially considering that she didn’t turn out to be allergic after all).

5. Who did she look up to the most?

Probably Emma Watson (who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies). Watson was one of Rahāra’s inspirations to pursue acting.

6. Favorite and least favorite childhood foods?

Favorite: Ice cream. Least favorite: Carrots.

7. If she had her childhood again, would she change anything?

Yes: all the embarrassing moments (such as the aforementioned tripping and falling onstage). She’s a bit of a perfectionist.

8. What kind of child was she? Curious? Wild? Quiet? Devious?

Quiet at first, but she soon became defiant, particularly toward her two older brothers.

9. What was her relationship to her parents and siblings like?

As she grew up, she became more and more distant from her parents and siblings (three brothers). She became very ambitious in wanting to pursue her own path once she was a teenager.

10. What did she want to be when she grew up, and what did she actually become?

She wanted to be an actress, and at the start of her book, she is a secretary looking for work as an actress and model.

That’s it for today! Thanks for stopping by to meet Rahāra!

Tell me, are you doing Beautiful People this month? If so, put your link in the comments so I can read it! What did you think of Rahāra? Have you ever used Beautiful People questions to help you learn about a new character? Share in the comments!

Book Quote 4: Fahrenheit 451

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Hello, all! It’s the first Saturday of a new month, and that must mean I am analyzing a book quote. Today’s quote comes from the fantastic book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which I recently read and am considering reviewing for you. (I have several options, and am leaving it up to you to decide. See below for more details!)

For now, let’s talk about the above quote, particularly the part I put in bold. I picked this one because I think it’s really striking (you can find many more on Goodreads if you’re interested–be warned, there is some language in some of them). Let’s analyze: why is it so striking, and what can we writers learn from it?

1. It speaks to truth. A big theme of Fahrenheit 451 is that books speak to truth (or, at least, they should). Ironically, or perhaps purposefully, Bradbury is doing exactly that here. This quote comes near the end of the book, and he wants to leave us with something that speaks to what the storyworld is not, at the moment, but might become, something that it used to be. This quote embodies the theme of the story: life should be worth something. We should all have quotes somewhere in our books that bring out the themes of our stories.

2. Literary devices are used well. In the second sentence, Bradbury uses parallelism to make his point; each phrase has a similar structure. This reinforces the ideas presented in the reader’s mind and makes the writer’s point better. (Of course, this would only work coming from particularly well-spoken characters, such as the well-read man who is speaking about his grandfather here.) Bradbury also uses the metaphor of the soul going into an object when it dies to make his writing that much more powerful.

Enter a caption

Before I finish, I need you to help me decide which book to review this month. I read three candidates, described below:

The Tombs of Atuan: I reviewed the first book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, A Wizard of Earthsea, back in April. The Tombs of Atuan is the second book, and I thought it was just as good as the first.

Fahrenheit 451: I had wanted to read this classic about book-burning for years, and finally got it out from the library this past month. I flew through it, and it was every bit as good as I’ve been told.

The Andromeda Strain: I had previously read Jurassic Park, another of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novels. As part of my recent sci-fi kick, I read The Andromeda Strain, about an extraterrestrial organism that comes down to Earth on a satellite and promptly causes disease and mayhem. It thrilled my inner scientist, but not so much my inner writer.

Just answer in the typeform below to give your opinion! The review will go up on the 18th.

What do you think of today’s quote? Have you read Fahrenheit 451? Did you like it? Which book did you vote for? Share in the comments!