Last Friday I decided to check out a concert performance by two of my friends who are in a band known as The Bachelor and The Bad Actress. They have recently announced their engagement via Facebook so it’s the first time I’ve seen them in concert since that momentous event. (The soon-to-be-married couple have basically told me that they will still keep the current band name even though the male half of the couple will no longer be technically a bachelor.) The New Deal Cafe was filled like it usually was on Friday nights so I ended up sitting by the bar. I met up with friends and acquaintances who were also there to see the band in concert. I ordered a Corona beer and I was having a good time chatting with people.

When The Bachelor and The Bad Actress took to the stage, I took a photo with my smartphone but I was seated a bit of a distance from the stage.

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So I used the zoom feature and I managed to get a better shot of the band even if it was a bit on the grainy side.

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So I was sitting back and enjoying the performance. I even shot a few videos but I didn’t film the entire concert because I had to hold the camera in my hands and I needed to rest my hands every now and then.

The Bachelor and The Bad Actress was the opening act for another band known as Gramophonic. They did this switch where both acts were on stage together for performing the song “Funeral”. Once the song ended, The Bachelor and The Bad Actress left the stage and Gramophonic played its set.

Things were mostly fine with me until about halfway through The Bachelor and The Bad Actress’ set when a couple walked in to the back of the New Deal Cafe. They were none other than my ex-husband and my ex-friend whom he married last year just two months after our divorce was final. They looked for seats and my ex-husband looked in my direction. The Corona beer that I was drinking had put a partial damper on my emotions so I didn’t freak out or scream but I still was annoyed and pissed that they showed up while my mind began to remember The Fucking Drama From Hell that my husband put me through when he bolted from home just three months after my surgery (and three days after Christmas) with zero notice that he was unhappy while blaming my purchase of a doll for our separation. And then there’s my ex-friend, whom I’ve always tried to be cordial and friendly towards while I felt very sorry for her serious mental health issues and she rewarded me by hooking up with my husband while going along with marrying him while our divorce was still brand-new.

But then something cool happened. That Backstabbing Couple From Hell couldn’t find seats while my ex-husband looked in my direction and they left the back room. Hooray for me! I could continue to enjoy the concert while I didn’t have to see them.

Towards the end of The Bachelor and The Bad Actress’ set, they announced that The Bachelor’s sister was in the audience and it was also her birthday that night. Someone had brought out a birthday cake with lit candles.

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The birthday girl dished out slices of her cake and I was fortunate enough to get a slice. It was a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and it had a raspberry filling in the middle. It was excellent.

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I stuck around for the first song of Gramophonic’s set but I was feeling drained by the evening so I left. I went through the front of the cafe and I found my ex-husband and his second wife sitting at one of the front tables. Their backs were turned to me so I was able to walk out without either one of them noticing me. Ironically one of them could’ve taken my former seat at the bar but they didn’t know that I had left. Ha! Ha! Ha! Serves those assholes right! :-)

Ramadan
Last week I was doing some shopping when I came across some interesting items that I took photos of with my smartphone camera. First up, I was browsing around Michaels Arts & Crafts when I saw a rack devoted to stuffed animals that resembled two popular Internet celebrities: Boo and Grumpy Cat.

Internet Celebrities as Stuffed Animals

I went on to Safeway, where I found out that 2014 is the 50th anniversary of Pop-Tarts.

Pop Tarts 50th Anniversary Box

Pop Tarts 50th Anniversary Box

Pop Tarts 50th Anniversary Box

While I was still at Safeway, I was browsing the bakery section when I found that it was carrying a new product: Waffle Nuts. Yes, it’s a hybrid of a waffle and a donut.

Waffle Nuts

Waffle Nuts

I took advantage of the 2 for $1 sale and bought two chocolate frosted waffle nuts. When I tried them at home, I have to admit that, while I thought the chocolate frosting was really good, the rest of the waffle nut was underwhelming. I think it’s an example of how experimenting with coming up with new combinations don’t always work. I like waffles and I like donuts but I just don’t think they taste so good as a hybrid. I personally wouldn’t buy another waffle nut.

Ramadan

In my last post I wrote about how I managed to create my first vector graphic using the open source vector software Inkscape. Last night I posted the goat graphic on both Facebook and Twitter. One of my Twitter friends was so impressed with my first effort that he urged me to share it on a site called Open Clip Art which, as you can infer from the title, has clip art that you can download and use for free (as long as it’s for non-commercial uses). Since I had no intention of ever trying to make a profit from that picture (it was basically a practice piece that I did while I was trying to learn Inkscape), I decided to take that advice and upload it on that site.

Here’s the picture in question.

goatAnd here’s the direct link to my file on Open Clip Art’s site that you can download for free.

Ramadan
Yes, I know that the title of this post sounds like the title of a NSFW beastiality porn movie. But this is way more nerdy than you’d expect so all you beastiality perverts can just move on to another web site.

I’m currently working on a side project with a friend where, if it works out, we could end up with writing a tutorial on this software that’s designed for elementary school students. Basically my friend is really big on open source software and an all-around geek who has written for Make magazine, PC World, and OpenSource.com. He also makes all kinds of experimental videos on his YouTube channel such as this:

So anyway, he was really keen on Inkscape because it’s a free open source version of Adobe Illustrator and it could be a great alternative to cash-strapped individuals who want to explore making vector graphics. (Besides, it is free and it’s available for anyone to download right here.) I thought it sounded promising, especially since Adobe has decided on this new business model where, instead of downloading or buying an off-the-shelf package then installing it on the computer, one would pay a monthly subscription fee for the privilege of using its software applications via the Internet. Naturally this has caused an uproar such as this and this.

As for me, I’m fortunate that I still have Adobe Creative Suite 4 (which my husband bought for me a year or two before he bolted from our marriage) and I’m lucky that it can run under OS X Mavericks (which is the latest Mac operating system) so I’m currently using that. But I was open to Inkscape because I know that there will come a time in the future when, for whatever reason, I may not be able to use Adobe Creative Suite 4 anymore and I don’t know how my finances will be so I need some alternatives to keep in mind.

So I took my friend’s advice and downloaded the Mac version of Inkscape only to have that application crash on me whenever I tried to boot it up. I tried several times with the same result. I looked online and I found that Inkscape is currently incompatible with OS X Mavericks (even though it’s the latest operating system). So my friend came up with this workaround. He managed to score a used Dell PC laptop through his day job working at a local library and he showed me how he replaced Microsoft Windows with Linux Mint. Then he downloaded and installed Inkscape and I currently have a copy of Inkscape that I can use without it crashing on me.

So I started to teach myself Inkscape using this series of YouTube videos that my friend recommended. In addition, I did a Google search and I found this really excellent cheat sheet that’s especially designed for people who are already familiar with Adobe Illustrator and want to quickly adapt that knowledge for learning Inkscape.

After spending a couple of days teaching myself Inkscape, I decided to put some of my new-found knowledge to work by doing a simple project. In the past I’ve done tracing over my own photos using Adobe Illustrator, such as this vector graphic based on a photo collage I originally assembled in Photoshop before I imported it into Illustrator to trace over it. (You can learn more about this piece in a blog entry I wrote in 2011.)

Mermaid Blythe

By the way, I later used this illustration on a quilt square as part of a special project that you can also read about in another blog post I wrote in 2011.

Mermaid Blythe Quilt Panel

I decided to see if I could do something similar in Inkscape. I wanted something that I could whip off pretty quickly so I went through my collection of photographs until I decided to use this photo that I took at Clark’s Elioak Farm last fall.

Petting Farm at Clark's Elioak Farm

There are three goats in the photo but I decided to focus just on the brown goat mainly because the photo lopped off the heads of the other two. The first thing I did was to crop the photo using the Mac Preview application (I use that app sometimes if I just want to do a simple crop and I’m too lazy to load up Adobe Photoshop) so I could eliminate the black and white goat on the right edge of the photo. Here is what it looked like after the cropping.

original goat photo

After that quick cropping job, I downloaded the photo on a USB memory stick so I could switch to the Dell laptop with the Linux Mint installed and start using Inkscape. I was able to import the photo directly into Inkscape as easily as I could import photos into Illustrator.

At that point I was able to trace over the photo in a way that’s similar to tracing photos in Illustrator. (By the way, if you want to learn more about how to trace photos in Illustrator, a quick Google search will lead to all kinds of links to free tutorials.) If you look at the above photo, the white goat’s body is still visible in the background. I decided not to include that goat because the head was lopped off in the photo and the picture would’ve looked very weird with a white blob in the background. So, using the same Layers feature in Inkscape that’s also available in other programs (like Illustrator and Photoshop), I was able to obliterate the white goat when I traced over the background on one layer.

goat-ground

I traced over the wooden areas of the fence on a second layer.

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I traced over the brown goat on a separate third layer.

goat.-goatheadandbodysvg

Finally I traced over the wire areas of the fence on the top fourth layer.

goat-wirepartsoffence

When I was done I combined the elements in each layer into one vector graphic.

goat

The picture may look like a cartoon but that’s the nature of vector graphics. If you’re interested in a more realistic look, using vector programs like Inkscape and Illustrator is NOT the way to go.

While I did okay with using Inkscape to trace over the photo, I can definitely tell the difference between using Inkscape and Illustrator. Adobe Illustrator makes it easy for one to add anchor points after drawing vector graphics while I wasn’t able to figure out how to do something similar in Inkscape. In fact, it seemed like if I wanted to alter a vector after I finished drawing it, my only options seem to be scaling and changing the colors. But if I only wanted to alter just one side of a graphic element and leave the rest alone, I had a hard time doing so. (Of course I haven’t mastered the program entirely yet. It’s possible that there’s a way of adding anchor points/nodes that I haven’t discovered as of this writing.)

I don’t really want to get too technical here since it’s possible that some of my readers aren’t hardcore computer geeks and, to them, even my brief descriptions of Layers in this post seem like gobbledygook to them. I’ll just provide a list of the good and bad things about Inkscape.

GOOD THINGS ABOUT INKSCAPE

Inkscape is free and one doesn’t have to subscribe to some kind of cloud service in order to access the software (unlike Adobe Illustrator).

There are plenty of free tutorials available on the Internet so you can easily learn this application.

If you save the file in .svg, you can open it directly in Adobe Illustrator.

If you don’t have Adobe Illustrator, I found that saving an Inkscape file in .eps format will also work if you need to transfer it to a different computer (like a Mac running OS Mavericks).

FLAWS IN INKSCAPE

It won’t run in Mac OS X Mavericks. Seriously, it refuses to run in the latest Mac OS. I had to uninstall Inkscape from my MacBook because it has Mavericks installed and every time I tried to run Inkscape, the application would crash. I had to borrow a Dell laptop with Linux Mint so I could use Inkscape. This is a big issue since OS X Mavericks is the latest Mac operating system and more and more people are using Mavericks because either they got new Macs (which has Mavericks pre-installed) or they upgraded their OS X in order to keep up with the latest upgrades. Until the people responsible for Inkscape addresses this problem, I don’t think this application will be widely adapted by Mac users.

On top of it, Inkscape is open source software, which, according to Wikipedia, means this:

In OSS development, the participants, who are mostly volunteers, are distributed among different geographic regions, so there is need for tools to aid participants to collaborate in source code development.

Even though Inkscape says that a Mac version that’s compatible with OS X Mavericks is supposed to be coming soon, it could mean anytime between tomorrow and five years from now. Basically the people who create open source software are volunteers who do this on their own time for little or no pay so you’d have to wait until the person or people have some free time to even work on upgrading Inkscape. In contrast, a corporation like Adobe can afford to pay programmers to spend a large portion of their waking hours maintaining the performance of Adobe Illustrator while also adhering to deadlines for putting out the latest upgrades as set by the management. People who get paid for this are much more likely to meet deadlines and come out with new upgrades more frequently than volunteers who can only do this in their spare time.

If you save it in .png, other applications may not even read it. I tried to import .png files into Photoshop, Illustrator, and even Mac Preview (which all normally can read .png with no problem) and the applications was only able to read a portion of the graphics. I even tried shrinking the graphic in Inkscape then saved in .png and it was still the same result. Ultimately I had to import the .svg file into Adobe Illustrator and exported it out into .eps in order to have it be read by other applications.

Unlike Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop, there are no “Merge Layers” or “Flatten Image” commands in Inkscape. I did a Google search and found this workaround here.

There is a simple workaround for merging layers :)
1. Ctrl-Alt-A for selecting everything in all layers.
2. Ctrl-X for cutting and placing it into clipboard.
3. Delete all layers except the bottom one.
4. Ctrl-Alt-V to paste in place.
5. Save.

It’s a pain in the butt but it’s the best way of compensating for the lack of a “Merge Layers” command in Inkscape.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Basically Inkscape is a good alternative to Illustrator for those who have Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X prior to Mavericks. While the interface is slightly less elegant than Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape comes pretty darned close. If Inkscape would only come up with a way of merging layers, I think it could give Adobe a run for its money. (Especially given the number of people who are pretty pissed at Adobe right now over its new subscription Creative Cloud.) Download Inkscape for free right here.

For Mavericks users, you’re basically out of luck regarding Inkscape. However, after doing a quick search in the App Store (using the search term “vector graphics software”), I found a few vector graphics applications that aren’t free but they are way cheaper than subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud. On top of it, they are all guaranteed to run under OS X Mavericks. (Apple would not even allow the software to go on sale in its App Store if it couldn’t run under Mavericks.)  The cheapest is EazyDraw, which costs only $4.99. Another is called iDraw, which costs $24.99. There’s also Super Vectorizer, which costs $29.99. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. (I haven’t used any of these apps so I can’t comment. I would urge you to read the reviews before deciding on a vector application to buy and download.)

Ramadan

Monday I had another appointment with my therapist and I decided to take advantage of the situation by checking out some other off-beat points of interests in Silver Spring that I saw on Roadside America’s website. Two weeks earlier, when I was on my way from a previous appointment with my therapist, I decided to check out the Prayer Stop that was mentioned on that website. It turned out to be a longer trip than I anticipated (that place was located near Silver Spring’s northernmost border) but I was rewarded with something unusual and charming to see.

On the day of my appointment, I decided to try some other points of interests that were both located in Silver Spring. This time I did a search on Google and found that they were located closer to my therapist’s office in downtown Silver Spring so I didn’t have as much driving this time. I also decided to arrive in Silver Spring a little bit early so I could check out these two places before my appointment.

The first one was supposedly an Atlantic Surf Fountain located in the courtyard of the building of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It sounded geeky and interesting so I arrived at the NOAA building.

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I tried walking all around the outside of the building including the courtyard. I found the entrance to the Silver Spring Metro. I also found a landscaped garden that’s typical of an urban landscape. But I didn’t find anything that remotely resembled a fountain, let alone one that supposedly mimicked the waves of the Massachusetts sea coast based on live data sent to Silver Spring.

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I have a feeling that NOAA dismantled that fountain. I wouldn’t be surprised if that fountain fell victim to the ongoing budget cuts and sequestration.  But in my walking, I discovered something that Roadside America didn’t mention. There’s a little museum called Gateway to NOAA, it’s free to enter, and it’s only opened from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. I went inside and found that it’s full of interesting exhibits on weather along with plenty of information on the impact of climate change on this planet. There are a lot of touch screens that visitors can use along with various displays. It’s the kind of museum that one could go through in about an hour or less (although real weather geeks could spend 2 hours just gawking at everything).

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I decided that I should make every effort to leave for my appointment even earlier next time so I can have more time to visit this museum and view the exhibits more thoroughly. I left the museum and decided to check another nearby place that was mentioned on Roadside America’s site. Unlike my ill-fated attempt to find that NOAA fountain, I really hit pay dirt. There is a little park on East-West Highway and Newell Street called Acorn Park. When you arrive at the park, you’ll see something really unique and interesting. There is a large oak tree in the center of the park.

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Next to that giant oak tree is a gazebo that’s shaped like an acorn. Now you know why this place is called Acorn Park.

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It’s kind of fitting that an acorn gazebo is located underneath an oak tree.

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The gazebo is held up by four pillars. Next to each pillar is a wooden bench where people can sit underneath the acorn gazebo.

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The brick floor of the gazebo is arranged in a charming circular pattern.

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The ceiling of the acorn dome is pretty interesting looking as well.

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Near the acorn gazebo is a building that has murals that depict the history of Silver Spring.

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Near the acorn gazebo is the opening to the underground spring that gives Silver Spring its name. (Although, when I peeked through the opening, I saw only dirt.)

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About a half a block away from Acorn Park is this interesting looking abstract stained glass art display.

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I found myself wishing I had tried to arrive earlier so I could spend more time in Acorn Park. But I had to make my visit a short one because of my therapy appointment.

Ramadan
Benjamin Franklin

Tim was so learned, that he could name a Horse in nine Languages. So ignorant, that he bought a Cow to ride on.

Ramadan

Last week I finally decided to upload some old computer animations I did years ago. I’m starting with The Unicorn With An Attitude and I’ll eventually go on to some animations I did for a class I took as well as animations I did for others.

This animation is the second in The Unicorn With An Attitude series. This one is more domestic than the previous one. It’s based on when I was a child and I had adults give me things (especially clothiers) then tell me that they went through great time and money to purchase this item of clothing (even though I hadn’t asked for that particular clothing). There were times when I didn’t appreciate the item as I should’ve because I felt so bad about what that adult relative went through to obtain the item. (The guilt especially came from the adults who worked jobs they hated.) There were also times when I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the clothes I was given but I ended pretending that I liked them because I remember the one time I spoke the truth and that adult went through stress returning the item to the store and really looked hurt. After that one incident, I ended up spending the rest of my childhood answering “yes” every time some adult asked if I appreciated that clothing item that someone purchased new at the department store regardless of whether I really liked the item or not.

I created this animation way back in 1995 and I actually uploaded it on various BBS as well as CompuServe. I originally created it as an animated gif using cheap software for a 386 PC. I later imported it into QuickTime and uploaded it on my own site. I have totally remastered it in high definition video using Apple iMovie and I also created the music using Apple GarageBand.

So here’s the original write-up I did that accompanied the second animation, “The Teddy Bear.”

This animation was the second in “The Unicorn With An Attitude” series. This episode is called “The Teddy Bear” and it’s more of a domestic situation comedy that’s told in under one minute. The Unicorn’s mother gives the Unicorn a very expensive teddy bear as a present while making the Unicorn feel guilty for receiving such a present at the same time. The Unicorn finds a creative way of solving this ambivalence.

Well, anyway, without further ado, here’s “The Teddy Bear.”

Ramadan
After devoting the last five Throwback Thursdays to the last five books in a series about a young girl growing up in the 1970’s, here is a review of the last book in the series. Like the other books, Changes for Julie is part of a series of historical novels put out by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) that focuses on growing up as a girl in the 1970’s. Since I was a young girl back in the 1970’s, I thought it would be fun to compare the books to my own memories of growing up in the 1970’s. I also figured that it could provide an idea for some light summer reading.

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

The books were published in 2007 and they were written by Megan McDonald, who has written a variety of children’s books including the Judy Moody series. The book Illustrations were done by Robert Hunt, who also designed the logo of a boy fishing from a crescent moon for Dreamworks Studios.

Changes for Julie is the sixth and final book in the Central Series following Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, Happy New Year, Julie, Julie and the Eagles, and Julie’s Journey.

Julie gets political.

Julie gets political.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1976 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items called Gladrags, and her 16-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the fall of 1976 and Julie has been living in that apartment with her mother and sister above her mother’s Gladrags shop for a year. During the summertime Julie notices a new girl walking around in her neighborhood but she doesn’t get to know her until after the new school year starts and the girl is assigned to her class. Julie learns that the new girl is named Joy Jenner and she is a deaf girl who has learned to read lips so she is being mainstreamed into a public school instead of attending a special deaf school. Despite Joy’s hearing problems, Julie and Joy quickly become friends and Julie starts learning a few things in sign language. Julie really identifies with Joy being the new girl in school because Julie was in the same boat last year so she understands what Joy is going through as she adjusts to a new school.

Julie is now in the fifth grade and she has a new teacher, Mrs. Duncan, who is so strict that she makes Julie’s previous fourth grade teacher, Ms. Hunter, seem totally permissive by comparison. Mrs. Duncan is the kind of teacher who hands out demerits and detentions like they were candy for the slightest student infraction. Julie’s problems begin when Joy has a hard time understanding Mrs. Duncan’s lecture on the Lewis and Clark Expedition so she passes a note to Julie asking what the teacher really said, even though Mrs. Duncan had banned students from passing notes. When Julie secretly writes the answer to Joy’s note, she has the misfortune of passing it back to Joy at the moment when Mrs. Duncan catches her. Despite Julie’s protestations that Joy only wrote the note because she didn’t understand what Mrs. Duncan is saying, both Julie and Joy earn detention for an hour after school.

During detention Julie and Joy has to write “I will not pass notes in class” one hundred times while Julie is also sentenced to write “I will not talk back to the teacher” one hundred times in addition to that other writing assignment. Julie and Joy meet a sixth grade boy nicknamed Stinger who is a regular in detention because he is a notorious troublemaker. After detention Stinger brags to Julie about how in the previous year, when he had Mrs. Duncan as a teacher, she gave him 43 detentions which he claims is the school record.

Julie and Joy meet Stinger the troublemaker in detention.

Julie and Joy meet Stinger the troublemaker in detention.

The next day in class Mrs. Duncan talks about the upcoming presidential election and, in the meantime, announces that the elections for student body president is coming up soon. Julie starts to see campaign posters in the hallway from the popular sixth grade boy Mark Salisbury and she’s not impressed by them. She mentions that if she ran for student body president, the first thing she’d do is try to get rid of that detention system because she feels that writing the same sentence one-hundred times is not only a waste of time but, in Stinger’s case, is not very effective in making him behave in school. Joy urges Julie to run while her friend and fellow basketball teammate T.J. expressed reservation because the student body president is usually a sixth grader. After Julie checks with the principal to see if fifth graders can run for student body president, she decides to throw her hat into the ring with Joy running on the ticket as vice president, and T.J. volunteers to serve as campaign manager.

Julie, Ivy, and Joy create posters for their campaign.

Julie, Ivy (who’s visiting Julie in her mother’s apartment), and Joy create posters for their campaign.

Even though there are a few times when Julie mentions in passing that she still plays for the school basketball team, the focus of this book is on the school election.

The dreaded Water Fountain Girls, a trio of girls whose first names begin with the letter “A” who hang around a water fountain while constantly gossip, snark, and make fun of other students (they are basically an elementary school version of the nasty popular girls in films like Heathers and Mean Girls), play a major role in this story for the first time since the first book, Meet Julie. (They played a more minor role in the second book, Julie Tells Her Story, as being among the students who spread untrue rumors about how Julie had injured her finger in that big basketball game so badly that it got gangrene and it had to be amputated. They appeared again briefly in the fourth book, Julie and the Eagles, but they were little more than bit players in that one.) The Water Fountain Girls start to snark about how Joy talks “funny” due in large part to her being deaf and they even make mock hand gestures as a way of making fun of Joy using sign language.

There are also frequent discussions (but not too heated or detailed because this is a book that’s written for elementary school children) about the upcoming 1976 Presidential Election where Republican President Gerald Ford is running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Tracy tells Julie that her high school civics teacher told her class about how he admires Jimmy Carter for taking a stand on issues that may cost him popularity. Julie’s mom and her friend Hank the Vietnam War vet tell Julie that they both intend to vote for Jimmy Carter this November. Julie’s father tells her that he intends to vote for Gerald Ford.

The last chapter, Looking Back, deals with the changes that took place in the 1970’s, many of which still resonates to this day. There was the 1976 Presidential Election, where Jimmy Carter defeated the incumbent President Gerald Ford. There was increased foreign competition in consumer items like cars and electronics. Thousands of Americans lost their jobs as their companies shipped them overseas where workers could do the same job for less money. The Energy Crisis, where oil was rationed, was the first time that Americans started thinking about alternative forms of energy like solar and wind. People found solace in these turbulent times by watching television, where the biggest hit shows were ones that were set in the 1950’s like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. The chapter mentions the feminist movement and how its long-term legacy led to successes (like the political careers of Shirley Chisholm and Nancy Pelosi) and failures (like the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment). The chapter ends with a look at mainstreaming children with disabilities in the public schools while mentioning notable disabled persons like Judy Heumann, Marlee Matlin, and Heather Whitestone.

Music Mentioned in This Book

The theme song to the TV show Flipper

Television Shows Mentioned

Happy Days
Laverne & Shirley
Little House on the Prairie TV show

Real-Life People Mentioned

Heather Whitestone
Judy Heumann
Marlee Matlin
President Gerald Ford
President Jimmy Carter
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Shirley Chisholm

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

1976 U.S. Presidential Election
The Energy Crisis
Equal Rights Amendment
“Hang in There, Baby!” Kitten Poster
Macramé
Mainstreaming in education

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

I have to admit that this book is the strongest book in the Central Series since the first one (Meet Julie). It focuses on Julie’s passionate activist side, which was shown in her previous efforts to push her school to let girls play on the school basketball team in Meet Julie and her help in releasing an eagle family back into the wild in Julie and the Eagles. And there’s also a lot of drama in both the school elections and the re-emergence of those nasty Water Fountain Girls.

But here’s the thing. I don’t remember ever being student government elections on the elementary school level when I was in school in the 1970’s. There weren’t Student Government Associations (SGA) in the public school system I attended (Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland) until middle school at the earliest. Like the books’ idea of having a basketball team that played other schools on the elementary school level, I find it curious that Julie’s elementary school would even have an SGA (or its San Francisco public school equivalent) based on my own school experiences while I was growing up in the 1970’s.

I remember when kids had to write the same sentence over and over on either a piece of paper or on the blackboard as punishment for an infraction. I also remember when kids were also punished by being forced to serve detention after school. I was punished myself a few times during my 12 years in the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) public school system but I’ve made sure that I rarely got into trouble at school because it would’ve given my parents a major big reason not to trust me and maybe even punish me further when I got home from school. (I could write more about this but it would turn into one of those 50+ paragraphs-long posts.)

Stinger the troublemaking sixth grader reminded me of kids I knew who frequently got into trouble. One was a seventh grader named Bobby who frequently disrupted class by getting up and walking around while talking back to the teacher whenever the teacher told him to sit down. He frequently was disciplined and he had to serve after-school detention but it didn’t work with that boy. When I was in high school there was a classmate named Jim who was a grade behind me who was frequently sent to the principal’s office because he talked back to the teacher but he was typically returned to class the next day and he would do it again.

There were times in middle school and high school when the most troublesome kids were suspended from school, which meant that they weren’t allowed anywhere on school property for a certain period of time and they couldn’t make up whatever classwork they’ve missed during the suspension time. These kids basically stayed home from school. Looking back on it, I feel that suspension was an ineffective form of punishment because the kids who were frequently suspended were the ones who didn’t want to be in school in the first place. So they would get into trouble so severe that they get suspended and they viewed it as a reward because they preferred to stay home anyway. I think the school system should’ve taken a hard look at its educational curriculum and programs to see why there were kids who preferred suspension to being in school but it failed to do so. (In case you’re wondering what school system I’m referring to, it’s the Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland.) I know that by junior year in high school many of the troublemaking kids I knew had dropped out once they turned 16.

That scene when Julie saw the “Hang in there, Baby!” kitten poster on the wall during detention brought back memories for me. I can remember when that poster was on sale everywhere during the 1970’s and there were even t-shirts, cards, and buttons based on that.

I also remember when Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley were the biggest hits on the air. I watched both shows off and on but I was never a big fan of either one. (I think I used to watch them if there was nothing better on TV.) I can remember all that wistful nostalgia people my parents’ age and older had for the 1950’s, which I could never fully understand. I even remember when my high school used to have 1950’s days once or twice a year where students were encouraged to dress like they were 1950’s teenagers. (I did it once or twice but after that I just couldn’t get into it so I came to school dressed in normal 1970’s fashion on those days.) I know that part of the reason was because I wasn’t alive back in the 1950’s but, as I read more about the history and times of that era, I find that the 1950’s was a bit overrated as a decade.

Sure the 1950’s may have been heavenly if you were a white heterosexual man who wanted to be the main breadwinner with a wife and kids living in the suburbs because society pretty much favored you. But if you were a woman (especially one who wanted to be more than just a housewife and full-time mother), a person of color, someone who had g/l/b/t leanings, a person who had a hard time finding a job after being falsely accused of being a Communist (after all, the 1950’s spawned the notorious Communist witch hunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy), or even a white man who didn’t want to live the suburban lifestyle (like preferring to live in the city or not wanting to get married or wanting to live a bohemian lifestyle like Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation), the 1950’s decade was not such a sweet utopia.

The references in the book of the kids putting their chairs upside down on top of their desks at the end of the school day also brought back memories for me because we kids were required to do the same thing before we left for the day. The main reason we did this was to make it easier for the night janitor to sweep or vacuum the floors.

I remember hearing about the efforts to mainstream disabled kids in the public school. The only disabled classmate I can recall was a guy in my high school who was in the same grade as me. He was in a motorized wheelchair. I remember that he was the only student who was allowed to use the staff elevators (which required a special key in order to operate) in order to go up and down the floors. (My high school was two stories tall.) I never shared a class with him (I attended a school with over 4,000 students) but he was a fixture in the hallways during the times when we changed classes. Despite his body not being able to move, he was of average intelligence and his mind still functioned well enough to be able to attend classes. I never had a deaf or blind student or any kid with severe mental disabilities in my school.

I was amazed that Julie was able to convince a very strict teacher to consider a different method of discipline. While I had some teachers who were very effective, emphatic, and willing to listen to students’ concerns, unfortunately I had some teachers who were just as rigid as Mrs. Duncan and I’m not sure if any of them would’ve been as willing to take a suggestion from an elementary school-age student (especially one that the teacher had previously punished with detention). There were some teachers who gave off this vibe like “I’m older and more experienced than you. You are here to learn from me. Do not question me because I’m here to teach you.”

It was great that Julie’s idea of an alternative discipline led to the Water Fountain Girls to stop making fun of Joy. I’m not sure if that method would work with all bullies. All throughout my growing up years I’ve met one or two bullies who were so obsessed with going after certain people that they seemed to be borderline psychotic or sociopathic. I think Julie’s method just would not work on a budding sociopath at all.

The one thing I really like about Julie’s character is that she’s willing to not only become friends with a deaf girl but she’s also willing to stick up for her whenever she’s the target of other students’ ridicule. Unfortunately for me I had a friend who lived next door to me while we were growing up. The first few years of school I attended public school while she attended Catholic school so things were fine. As she grew older her parents started to allow the older kids (she was one of six children) to switch to public school in order to save money on tuition. It all came crashing down in middle school when we ended up in the same class together. There were some classmates who thought I was somehow “retarded” so they started to make fun of me. Rather than sticking up for me, she started to join in on the ridicule. She was the opposite of Julie Albright. (Yeah, I’m looking at YOU, Susan K.! If you’re reading this, I have one thing to say: Go fuck yourself with a broom handle covered with 300-grit sandpaper. Ironically I ran into her by chance at Artscape last Saturday and it definitely was NOT fun and I was glad that this unexpected reunion was very brief.)

I also remember the 1970’s Energy Crisis really well. Things got so bad that there was a time when the state government instituted this odd/even days where if the first number of your car license plate started with an odd number, you were only allowed to get gas on odd numbered days while license plates starting with an even number could only get gas on even numbered days. Things were so bad that by the time I got my driver’s license, I was in no hurry to get my own car because I would’ve had to contend with gas shortages. Instead I was content with driving my parents’ car sometimes while leaving them to deal with the fallout from the Energy Crisis. I didn’t even get my first car until a few months before I got married at the age of 23.

Now that I’ve reviewed all the books in the Central Series, here’s my personal ranking of the books.

The Best: Meet Julie. The first part of the book does such an excellent job at explaining divorce to young children in a very sensitive way that I would recommend this book to any child whose parents are divorcing because it would give a child an idea of what it could be like after the divorce. The second half is also strong, upbeat, and dramatic as Julie invokes the new Title IX law while she fights her school for the right to play on the basketball team. The last book, Changes for Julie, also ranks up there with its storyline about how Julie tries to change the system (by running in the school elections in the hopes of reforming the school’s detention policy) while introducing a deaf character in a very realistic way that doesn’t stereotype the deaf nor show any kind of excessive pity as “the poor little deaf girl”. (I’ve met deaf people in real life so I think American Girl did very well in having a deaf character that’s totally believable.)

The Middle: Julie Tells Her Story and Julie and the Eagles are pretty solid books. While they are slightly less compelling than the best books, I found that they are still an enjoyable read nonetheless.

The Bottom of The Barrel: Two books fall under this category. Happy New Year, Julie was so full of big sister Tracy’s frequent complaining about the first Christmas since the divorce that the first half of the book was incredibly annoying. There were times I found myself wishing that someone would slap her in the face just to shut her up. Only the second half of the book, focusing on how Ivy Ling’s family celebrate Chinese New Year, kept this book from being the worst in the series.

Instead that honor falls to Julie’s Journey. That book focused on the American Bicentennial, an event that I remember as being a major once-in-a-lifetime celebration that was so big that some of the observances began in mid-1975. It was an event that even small towns and less populated rural areas took part in. It could’ve been a really interesting and well-done book. Julie could’ve taken a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi River while viewing Fourth of July fireworks over St. Louis’ famed Gateway Arch. Or she could’ve visited Washington, DC since it’s the nation’s capital. Or she could’ve spent a week in a small town anywhere in the U.S. where she could’ve observed how that town did its own Bicentennial celebration with a bit of quirkiness mixed in. Or she could’ve visited a historic town or city in the original 13 colonies like Williamsburg, Yorktown, Annapolis, Boston, Lexington, Concord, or Philadelphia. Instead the reader is treated to a totally dull pioneer wagon train (complete with numerous sentences of Julie fretting over learning how to ride Hurricane the horse) with a tacked-on mystery at the end of the book that seemed totally contrived. Heck, even the Bicentennial scrapbook that I had to keep as part of a year-long middle school social studies class (and I still have in my possession) has more interest and drama than Julie’s Journey.

Even though Changes for Julie marks the end of the Central Series, it won’t be the last time we hear from Julie Albright. Come back next Throwback Thursday to learn how American Girl managed to extend Julie’s story past the Central Series.

Where to Buy Changes for Julie

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series:

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City

The BeForever Books:

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Ramadan
I shot this video of the Chalice Dancers who performed during Sunday service at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church in Adelphi, Maryland on June 1, 2014. They did a rainbow dance where they not only focused on all the colors that make up a rainbow but they also tied each individual color to each of the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.

Ramadan
Last Saturday I wanted to do something fun after I went through a bunch of CD’s to determine which ones I wanted to keep and which ones I should get rid of after ripping the songs that I really like to my MacBook. The weather was warm but not too hot while the humidity wasn’t too bad either so I decided to go to Artscape in Baltimore. (The fact that the festival was free was definitely a plus for me.) I walked around for a few hours and I mostly had a good time. I also took a whole boatload of photos and I uploaded three videos on to YouTube. So, anyway, here it goes!

Everywhere you went at Artscape there were lots of live music and vendors selling their arts and crafts.

Artscape 2014

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I took the next few photos of this booth because some of the t-shirts said things like “Poly Girl Rock” and “Run Poly” (the latter is a parody of the famous Run-DMC logo) because one of my friends from my Unitarian Universalist congregation came out publicly as a polyamory person (along with her principal partner whom I also met through my church—I have never met any of their other paramours) and she has given media interviews about polyamory while also leading an organization called Practical Polyamory. I later uploaded these photos to Facebook while I tagged her name.

Artscape 2014

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There were all kinds of trucks. Some of them sold food and beverages while others provided services like providing free testing for STDs and HIV/AIDS.

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Artscape 2014

There were also interesting people to photograph on the street as well.

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Someone made a statue of a sea turtle using recycled plastic shopping bags.

Artscape 2014

I’d never thought I’d ever see the National Bohemian beer (a.k.a. Natty Boh) mascot rendered in real life.

Artscape 2014

Artscape 2014

There was an area dedicated to building the World’s Largest Art Park where, for a $5 donation, people could paint bricks that will ultimately be used to create such a park. I regretted not doing this myself but money was so tight for me that I had to literally hang on to all the cash that I had on me at the time. I would love to see the entire park when it’s finished.

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There was this merry-go-round carousel which rotated and it had sculptures of a chicken drumstick, and ear of corn, and a crab claw.

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There was a protest/community art project where people could write on Post-It Notes what they would prefer the Baltimore City Public Schools to spend its money on other than standardized tests.

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It was around the time that I took the previous picture that I happened to run into some people I knew from my childhood growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland who recognized me while I didn’t recognize them until they gave their names. I already wrote at length about that encounter so I’ll just say here that I was less than thrilled with seeing those two women again and I was glad when they left after speaking with me for a couple of minutes. (Too bad I didn’t run into anyone from my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park. I would’ve been way happier and delighted because, to be honest, I prefer my college friends over my childhood friends.)

After they left I faced a dilemma. I had reached the north end at Artspace on Mt. Royal Avenue and there was still more to see on Charles Street. Normally I would walk back down Mt. Royal Avenue towards the Mt. Royal Light Rail Station then walk up Charles Street but I really didn’t want to risk encountering those women from my past again. (My previous post has all the details why I didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about seeing them again.) I looked on the map on my smartphone and found that I was not only close to North Street but I was also close to The Wind-Up Space, where I go to attend the Baltimore chapter of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School. I found that I could walk along North Street towards The Wind-Up Space and turn right on Charles Street and I could pick up the rest of the festival at the other end. So I did just that and I didn’t have any further encounters with those two women from my old neighborhood (nor anyone else from my Glen Burnie days, for that matter). I also took some more photos along the way to North Street.

Artscape 2014

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As I was walking along North Avenue, I came upon Red Emma’s, a worker-owned cooperative that’s a coffeehouse, vegan restaurant, and bookstore. I usually walk past Red Emma’s whenever I go to Dr. Sketchy’s at The Wind-Up Space but I had never been inside because Dr. Sketchy’s is usually held on a Monday night while Red Emma’s is closed on Mondays. I found that Red Emma’s was opened so I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see what this place was like on the inside.

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

Red Emma's, July 19, 2014

I found that Red Emma’s is really nice looking and I was impressed with their book selection. The lines were too crowded for me to try the food (actually the lines were crowded at practically every single restaurant, fast food place, and food truck that I encountered during Artscape) and I was too broke to buy a book. I wouldn’t mind returning at a later date when I have more time and more money.

So I turned right on Charles Street and I was able to rejoin the festival.

Artscape 2014

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There was a fashion area where would-be fashion designers sold their wares from booths, the backs of parked trucks, and even a funky-painted bus.

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I came upon this cool looking booth for a hardware store called The Loading Dock that recycles materials from construction sites. It’s similar to what Community Forklift close to my home does.

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I came across something called Magfest, which I can best describe as a festival within a festival.

Artscape 2014

This mini-festival is devoted to video gaming.

Artscape 2014

Basically there were video games (some were on computers while others were video arcade games) that people played while a live band played on a nearby stage. There was also a display of video game-inspired art.

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I even shot a short video to give people an idea of what Magfest was like.

There was another mini-festival within a festival called The Alternative Art Fair that had all kinds of interesting art that was held on the lower level of a parking garage.

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I came across some neat examples of urban gardening.

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I found a couple of tents that had a dance demonstration by Arthur Murray, which is legendary in my family. As a teenager, my late aunt had taken dance classes through Arthur Murray and I was told that she was an excellent student. She even did a newspaper ad for Arthur Murray that included her photo and it ran in The Baltimore Sun. Sadly she had to give up those lessons when my grandfather died and money became tight as a result. (If you happened to come across a vintage 1950s Baltimore Sun newspaper and see an Arthur Murray ad featuring a photo of an attractive short-haired brunette named Linda Banahan, that was my late aunt.)

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I eventually came up to the art cars that Artscape is well known for.

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The car in the next photo was covered in pennies.

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This car was covered in doodles.

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This is the same Star Wars themed car that I saw parked outside of a baseball stadium the night that I attended a Bowie Baysox game on Star Wars night last month.

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Artscape 2014

The Star Wars car also sold science fiction earrings.

Artscape 2014

Yes, it’s a cockroach car.

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This vehicle was covered in bottle caps.

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This art car also had art for sale.

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I came across a puppeteer that had a marionette with a big butt and he was making the puppet do some twerking.

Artscape 2014

I even shot a short video of the twerking puppet.

I took more photos of various performers and other things.

Artscape 2014

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I found a Midway-style carnival games that were all with twists. There was a duck game where the ducks floated around in a pool that resembled the U.S.S. Torsk that’s permanently docked in the Inner Harbor.

Artscape 2014

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Believe it or not, this next photo is a ring toss.

Artscape 2014

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Then there was a ball toss game called “Political Punk Rock” where people can throw balls at targets that resembled people like Hilliary Clinton, Kim Jong Un, John Boehner, Bill Clinton, Sarah Palin, and more!

Artscape 2014

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The next photo shows this giant game that was a cross between pinball and a foosball table.

Artscape 2014

There was a pizza variation on the classic game Twister.

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There was a performer named Gregory Morgan who was literally a one-man band. He was quite good at playing all the instruments by himself.

Artscape 2014

I even shot a short video of Gregory Morgan to give you an idea of what he was like.

I took the last few photos before I took the next light rail back to North Linthicum (where my car was parked). I was totally tired by the end.

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